Jason Gorber's Cineruminations: STAR WARS, Kurosawa, and a Galaxy to be Explored

Contributor; Toronto, Canada (@filmfest_ca)
Jason Gorber's Cineruminations: STAR WARS, Kurosawa, and a Galaxy to be Explored
Today a rumor - since denied by the man himself - hit that Zack Snyder, he of 300, Watchmen and the upcoming Man of Steel projects, is set to direct one of the offshoot Star Wars films.  Though Snyder says he is not involved - and only time will tell if he's telling the truth - the report raises some interesting options for future directions of the franchise.

When the news of the Disney Sale hit, Mousehouse chairman Bob Iger hinted that there would be more than the "canonical" three films added to the slate, that other projects withing the SW galaxy would also be part of the project for keeping the stories alive far pass the conclusion of the main Skywalker story line.

The reports from Vulture suggest that Snyder's film will be "loosely based on Akira Kurosawa's 1954 classic Seven Samurai, with the ronin and katana being replaced by the Force-wielding knights and their iconic lightsabers."

Seven Samurai is of course no stranger to reinvention. Soon after its release, The Magnificent Seven took its tale of a loose band of misfits fighting against an unjust, tyrannical band and set it in some arid Western town. In many ways John Sturges' film plays direct homage to Kurosawa's work, but it's no mere copycat, with each film standing on its own as an absolute classic.

The whole notion of remakes and Kurosawa is made all the more interesting when you consider just how compelling the famed director found American genre filmmaking. In very many ways, most of AK's chanbara films serve dual narrative purpose - they echo contemporary Japanese events through the lens of a historical action/epic, and they borrow heavily from cinematic tropes imported by the films of Ford, Hawks, and even Sturges himself. There's a form of symbiont circle here, a midichlorian-like DNA that is shared between the Westerns of the 30s and 40s, the Japanese sword films of the 50s, and in turn the many more sly and dark Spaghetti-style Westerns of the 60s. 

Famously, Kurosawa adored Magnificent Seven, and is said to have presented the director with a katana of his own in appreciation.

Similarly, much of Lucas' vision for the Star Wars saga was born of of his deep love for Kurosawa's films. It's no surprise to even the most causal fan of the saga that Hidden Fortress, the 1958 tale of a princess, an old wizened warrior, and a couple of sidekicks (one short/fat, the other tall/lanky), played more than a passing role in the development of the story. The fact that the first 30 minutes or so of A New Hope is told from the perspective of the droids is an element that survives through all the script stages, but at one point the connection to the original was so strong that Lucas considered filming with an all-Japanese cast!

So key was Hidden Fortress to the underlying structure of his film, Lucas actually went ahead and optioned Kurosawa's film. This would lead to many years where Lucas (along with Coppola and Spielberg) would serve as producers on various projects. 1980s Kagemusha, for example, was exec produced by Lucas, who helped bring the international filmmaker to a wider audience after the tremendous success of the Space Opera debut.

Naturally, the "laser swords" of the series draw directly from the chanbara ethos, but so to does the samurai helmet-like design for Darth Vader, or the austere Judo-like robes of the Jedi. Looking through the much maligned prequels, you can see the continuation of this Asian-aesthetic, drawing upon Japanese, Korean, and other South Asian influences in the costuming and architecture. Even names and philosophies for some of the elements draw from Japanese culture - it's not hard to apply Zen teachings to Yoda, nor think of "Jedi" as a Japanese word.

Speaking of Yoda, Yoda Yoshikata was the screenwriter for a number of Mizoguchi films, including Ugetsu. And while I always thought of "Anakin" as a samurai-derived name, I'm willing to bet it's actually drawn from the surname of the director of another Lucas fave, The Battle of the Bulge.

As for Zack Snyder taking up the role, I'm willing as ever to remain cautiously optimistic should his denial prove to be a smokescreen. Unlike many comic book fans that had pent-up expectations of what the work should be, I was quite enamored with Watchmen, finding its coherent aesthetic and interesting use of strong visual and musical elements quite engaging. It will be even more interesting to see how he makes his on mark on the Superman myth (under Nolan's influence, both as EP and in the form of the Batman trilogy), if only to see how many of the Snyder-isms remain intact, and whether they can be sustained in a slightly different milieu.

Finally, as for the story, what made Kurosawa's film so powerful was that it was set in a time of great turmoil, yet used the greater historical context as a mere backdrop for a far more intimate (yet no less powerful) existential crisis. This allows for great moments of action but also great moments of character development, as we're free from the world building and expositional elements required by some of the other works. Freed from having to tell something on a glactic scale, we can see that a single battle could easily occupy a feature length film, and would allow us to more fitfully engage with characters within the greater timeline.

I'm given hope by Miike Takashi's recent 13 Assassins, itself a loving homage to Kurosawa's film. While some weren't drawn to this presentation, I quite loved how it played out, and found the deliberate pace and rich drawing of characters refreshing. At the least, it allows us to think even more outside the confines of our expectations - how much fun would it be for an international director like Miike to take on one of the segments from this series, thus in some ways bringing the story back to its Japanese roots?

More fun stuff to think about.

In the end, while the Venture article proved to be complete conjecture, I think the idea of genuinely talking a Kurosawa-style Seven Jedimurai might indeed be a very good thing. As always, we'll just have to wait and see what the next few years will bring.
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Akira KurosawaDisneyGeorge Lucasjason gorber's cineruminationsStar Warszack snyderShinobu HashimotoHideo OguniToshirô MifuneTakashi ShimuraKeiko TsushimaYukiko ShimazakiActionAdventureDrama

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