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What Is Akira Kurosawa's Best Movie?

Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998), one of the most accomplished and influential filmmakers in the history of cinema, was born on March 23, 1910, in Tokyo, Japan. He was introduced to the world of art at an early age through his painter father, and his love for visual storytelling was further nurtured through his older brother, who worked as a film narrator.

Kurosawa’s directorial debut came in 1943 with the film “Sanshiro Sugata,” but his international recognition began with “Rashomon” (1950), which won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival. The film not only put Japanese cinema on the global map but also introduced the world to Kurosawa’s innovative storytelling, characterized by complex narratives and profound psychological insight.

Throughout his career, Kurosawa crafted a rich tapestry of films that ranged from historical epics to contemporary dramas. His masterful blend of Western literary traditions and Japanese aesthetics resulted in films that were both culturally specific and universally appealing.

Some of Kurosawa’s most notable films include “Seven Samurai” (1954), “Throne of Blood” (1957), “Yojimbo” (1961), “Kagemusha” (1980), and “Ran” (1985). His works were renowned for their technical mastery, emotional depth, and philosophical themes. Many of Kurosawa’s films have inspired Western adaptations and are studied in film schools around the world.

His relationship with actors like Toshiro Mifune became legendary, contributing to the strong and memorable characters that populate his films. He also mentored several younger directors, leaving a lasting influence on the filmmaking industry in Japan and beyond.

Kurosawa’s contributions were not limited to directing; he was also a prolific screenwriter, editor, and producer. His ability to control various aspects of filmmaking helped him to maintain a distinct style and vision.

The recipient of numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement, Akira Kurosawa’s legacy continues to resonate in contemporary cinema. His exploration of human nature, morality, and society provides timeless insights that continue to captivate audiences and filmmakers alike.

But which film would you rank as his best? Vote in the poll below after reviewing his full filmography below.

Year English Title Title in Japanese
1943 Sanshiro Sugata 姿三四郎
1944 The Most Beautiful 一番美しく
1945 Sanshiro Sugata Part II 續姿三四郎
1945 The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail 虎の尾を踏む男達
1946 No Regrets for Our Youth わが青春に悔なし
1946 Those Who Make Tomorrow 明日を創る人々
1947 One Wonderful Sunday 素晴らしき日曜日
1948 Drunken Angel 酔いどれ天使
1949 The Quiet Duel 静かなる決闘
1949 Stray Dog 野良犬
1950 Scandal 醜聞
1950 Rashomon 羅生門
1951 The Idiot 白痴
1952 Ikiru 生きる
1954 Seven Samurai 七人の侍
1955 I Live in Fear 生きものの記録
1957 Throne of Blood 蜘蛛巣城
1957 The Lower Depths どん底
1958 The Hidden Fortress 隠し砦の三悪人
1960 The Bad Sleep Well 悪い奴ほどよく眠る
1961 Yojimbo 用心棒
1962 Sanjuro 椿三十郎
1963 High and Low 天国と地獄
1965 Red Beard 赤ひげ
1970 Dodes'ka-den どですかでん
1975 Dersu Uzala デルス・ウザーラ
1980 Kagemusha 影武者
1985 Ran
1990 Dreams
1991 Rhapsody in August 八月の狂詩曲
1993 Madadayo まあだだよ

What Is Akira Kurosawa's Best Movie?

Notes on Some Notable Kurosawa Films

Given the filmography of Kurosawa is vast and we suspect the vote will come down to a handful of films, we’ll give some snippets of our editors choice picks.

Drunken Angel (1948)

Drunken Angel marks Kurosawa’s first collaboration with actor Toshiro Mifune. Set in post-war Tokyo, it follows an alcoholic doctor and a young gangster suffering from tuberculosis. The film showcases a strong social message, reflecting the moral decay of the time. Kurosawa’s humanism and film craftsmanship began to shine through in this compelling drama.
  • Year Released: 1948

Rashomon (1950)

Rashomon is a groundbreaking film that challenged conventional storytelling by presenting multiple conflicting accounts of a single event. Set in medieval Japan, the story involves the rape of a woman and the murder of her samurai husband. Its innovative narrative structure and philosophical depth have made it one of Kurosawa’s most celebrated works.
  • Year Released: 1950

Ikiru (1952)

Ikiru, translated as “To Live,” is a poignant film about a dying bureaucrat who seeks meaning in his final days. This deeply moving and life-affirming work explores existential themes and offers a sharp critique of bureaucracy. The film’s emotional resonance and Kurosawa’s masterful direction make it a timeless classic.
  • Year Released: 1952

Seven Samurai (1954)

Seven Samurai is an epic adventure that tells the story of a group of samurai hired to protect a village from bandits. Kurosawa’s dynamic action sequences, character development, and thematic richness have influenced countless filmmakers. Often regarded as one of the greatest films ever made, it has been remade and referenced in various cultures.
  • Year Released: 1954

Throne of Blood (1957)

Throne of Blood is Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” set in feudal Japan. It’s a dark and atmospheric film filled with haunting imagery. Kurosawa blends Western literature with Japanese Noh theater to create a unique cinematic experience. Throne of Blood stands as a fascinating interpretation of a classic tragedy.
  • Year Released: 1957

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

The Hidden Fortress is an adventurous tale about two greedy peasants escorting a princess and her general across enemy lines. Famous for inspiring George Lucas’s “Star Wars,” it is noted for its engaging storytelling and rich visuals. The film’s lighter tone and energetic pace showcase Kurosawa’s range as a filmmaker.
  • Year Released: 1958

Dersu Uzala (1975)

Dersu Uzala is a Russian-Japanese co-production that tells the story of a Siberian hunter guiding a Russian surveyor through the wilderness. The film’s breathtaking cinematography and humane portrayal of the hunter capture the bond between man and nature. This unique entry in Kurosawa’s filmography won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
  • Year Released: 1975

Ran (1985)

Ran, inspired by Shakespeare’s “King Lear,” is a visually stunning epic about an aging warlord dividing his kingdom among his sons. Famed for its colorful battle scenes and profound themes of chaos and betrayal, it represents the culmination of Kurosawa’s artistry. Ran stands as a testament to Kurosawa’s mastery of cinematic language.
  • Year Released: 1985