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On Creativity and Age: Kurosawa’s Letter to Bergman


When does artistic creation truly begin? When does it really end? Through a moving letter, Akira Kurosawa presented the great Ingmar Bergman with this enigma.

Towards the end of The Writer and his Ghosts, Ernesto Sabato devotes a fragment of the book to the moment when a person who has decided to incur in writing as a trade, has given into the temptation of fiction and has to write. This is the ‘moment’ in its existential sense.

Is it during adolescence, when many of us suddenly realise that we do not know the meaning of life, or the purpose of our own? Might it be during our maturity, when we have amassed sufficient experiences so that, perhaps, we are able to endure literature? Or, is it actually in old age, when the passion of yesteryear is barely an ember and the course of our life has become so calm that we can look through its sediments?

A paradox lies between the impulse to say, the need to express —which characterises every artist— and the choice of that which wants to be said, that raw material which in its authentic expression (and only then), is capable of transforming into the work when it has surged from the core of subjectivity, building a bridge with reality and the world.

In July 1988, Ingmar Bergman turned seventy. As a somewhat conclusive gesture, the director published his memoirs entitled The Magic Lantern, where he asserted: “I probably do mourn the fact that I no longer make films.”

In response to the latter statement, another director of a similar genius, Akira Kurosawa, sent him a letter where he questioned this abandonment and, in turn, he shared with Bergman a few reasons why he believed the Swedish director should think twice before leaving his film career behind.

Dear Mr. Bergman,

Please let me congratulate you upon your seventieth birthday.

Your work deeply touches my heart every time I see it and I have learned a lot from your works and have been encouraged by them. I would like you to stay in good health to create more wonderful movies for us.

In Japan, there was a great artist called Tessai Tomioka who lived in the Meiji Era (the late 19th century). This artist painted many excellent pictures while he was still young, and when he reached the age of eighty, he suddenly started painting pictures which were much superior to the previous ones, as if he were in magnificent bloom. Every time I see his paintings, I fully realize that a human is not really capable of creating really good works until he reaches eighty.

A human is born a baby, becomes a boy, goes through youth, the prime of life and finally returns to being a baby before he closes his life. This is, in my opinion, the most ideal way of life.

I believe you would agree that a human becomes capable of producing pure works, without any restrictions, in the days of his second babyhood.

I am now seventy-seven (77) years old and am convinced that my real work is just beginning.

Let us hold out together for the sake of movies.

With the warmest regards,

Akira Kurosawa

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