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Kurosawa’s Poignant Reaction to a Tarkovsky Masterpiece


An essay reveals Akira Kurosawa’s high praise for a science fiction classic directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.

One of the qualities that made filmmaker, Akira Kurosawa, great was his high sensitivity and his interest in nearly all of the arts. It’s not often remarked that Kurosawa was also a great reader, especially of foreign literature, and that he had a remarkable inclination for the visual arts, which he admired and sometimes practiced.

It’s fair to say that the director was even a great lover of the aesthetic complexion of life. After all, what else leads to the cultivation of a creative life? A realization that we’re surrounded by beauty, which, though sometimes unseen, is missed only due to a lack of habit, or because we’ve ceased to exercise that particular sensitivity.

We can recover now something of that way of life and experience something of that world on the occasion of a statement that Kurosawa made shortly after having seen Andrei Tarkovsky’s classic Solaris (1972), in the company of Tarkovsky himself. The Russian is, in some sense, Kurosawa’s “spiritual brother” because he likewise exerted a powerful aesthetic momentum through his work in film, even in a science fiction work like Solaris. In this regard, Kurosawa said:

Marvelous progress in science we have been enjoying, but where will it lead humanity after all? Sheer fearful emotion this film succeeds in conjuring up in our soul. Without it, a science fiction movie would be nothing more than a petty fancy.

These thoughts came and went while I was gazing at the screen.

Tarkovsky was together with me then. He was at the corner of the studio. When the film was over, he stood up, looking at me as if he felt timid. I said to him, “Very good. It makes me feel real fear.” Tarkovsky smiled shyly, but happily. And we toasted vodka at the restaurant in the Film Institute. Tarkovsky, who didn’t drink usually, drank a lot of vodka, and went so far as to turn off the speaker from which music had floated into the restaurant, and began to sing the theme of samurai from Seven Samurai at the top of his voice.

As if to rival him, I joined in.

For I was at that moment very happy to find myself living on Earth.

Solaris makes a viewer feel this, and even this single fact shows us that Solaris is no ordinary SF film. It truly somehow provokes pure horror in our soul. And it is under the total grip of the deep insights of Tarkovsky.

The excerpt is part of an essay Kurosawa wrote for the newspaper Asahi Shinbun in 1977. The essay is on watching the film with Tarkovsky, and beyond those circumstances, it offers an irrefutable argument for admiring that particular classic of science fiction. Who wouldn’t feel appreciation for such a work?

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