Something Like an Autobiography

Source: Akira Kurosawa (trans. Audie Bock), Something Like an Autobiography (New York/Toronto: Random House, 1982), p. 6

Text: I think it was around this time that I saw my first movie or “motion picture.” From our house in Ōmori we’d walk to Tachiaigawa Station, take the train that went toward Shinagawa and get off at a station called Aomono Yokochō, where there was a movie theater. On the balcony in the very center was one section that was carpeted, and here the whole family sat on the floor Japanese style to watch the show.

I don’t remember exactly what it was that I saw when I was in nursery school and what I saw in primary school. I just remember that there was a kind of slapstick comedy I found very interesting. And I remember a scene in which a man who has escaped from prison scales a tall building. He comes out onto the roof and jumps off into a dark canal below. This may have been the French crime-adventure film Zigomar, directed by Victorin Jasset and first released in Japan in November 1911.

Another scene I recall shows a boy and girl who have become friends on a ship. The ship is on the verge of sinking, and the boy is about to step into an already overfull lifeboat when he sees the girl still on the ship. He gives her his place in the lifeboat and stays behind on the ship, waving goodbye. This was apparently a film adaptation of the Italian novel Il Cuore (The Heart).

But I much preferred comedy. One day when we went to the theater, they weren’t showing a comedy, and I cried and fretted about it. I remember my older sisters telling me I was being so stupid and disobedient that a policeman was coming to take me away. I was terrified.

However, my contact with the movies at this age has, I feel, no relation to my later becoming a film director. I simply enjoyed the varied and pleasant stimulation added to ordinary everyday life by watching the motion-picture screen. I relished laughing, getting scared, feeling sad and being moved to tears.

Looking back and reflecting on it, I think my father’s attitude toward films reinforced my own inclinations and encouraged me to become what I am today. He was a strict man of military background, but at a time when the idea of watching movies was hardly well received in educators’ circles, he took his whole family to the movies regularly. Later in more reactionary times he steadfastly maintained his conviction that going to the movies has an educational value; he never changed.

Comments: Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) was a Japanese film director, one of the great figures in world cinema. His childhood was spent in the Ōmori district of Tokyo. His father came from a Samurai family. Victorin-Hippolyte Jasset directed a series of Zigomar detective films, the eponymous first of which was released in 1911. The novel he refers to is Il Cuore by Edmondo De Amicis, specifically a short story within that book entitled ‘Shipwrecked’, but I have not traced a film adaptation of the title from this time.

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