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We’re thrilled to announce BFI’s celebration of Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998), a two-month complete retrospective season at BFI Southbank showcasing 30 feature runs from 1 January – 28 February 2023.

Taking place across the UK during January and February 2023. KUROSAWA, a two-month complete retrospective of 30 feature films at BFI Southbank, in partnership with the Japan Foundation, co-curated by film director Asif Kapadia and film author Ian Haydn Smith.

So get the popcorn ready; call up your film club buddies and enjoy some beautiful cinema into the wee hours.

KUROSAWA: A two-month complete retrospective season

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On 6 January, BFI Distribution re-releases Kurosawa’s ground-breaking RASHOMON (1950) in cinemas UK-wide; the film will also be available to watch on BFI Player. There will be a rare and one-off opportunity on 28 January to see the masterpiece SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) on the biggest screen in the UK (65 feet high) at the newly refurbished BFI IMAX.

A collection of 15 of the director’s films will be available on BFI Player subscription to enable UK-wide audiences to fully immerse themselves in Kurosawa’s world.

The Curators

KUROSAWA curators Asif Kapadia and Ian Haydn Smith have laid out the BFI Southbank season in six thematic strands so that audiences can easily explore Kurosawa’s rich and varied filmography, his narrative preoccupations, finely drawn characters and cinematic visual style.

They will be joined by a guest speaker for a season introduction event on 18 January to discuss these key themes and give an overview of the films. While celebrating Kurosawa’s Jidaigeki (samurai) and action films, they will also explore the less familiar elements of his monumental filmography.

“We’re delighted to have the opportunity to curate a season of Akira Kurosawa’s films as a director,” Kapadia and Haydn Smith commented. “It’s an extraordinary body of work, encompassing 30 features across a 50-year span. The accompanying re-release of RASHOMON is the perfect starting point – the film that introduced post-war international audiences to Japanese cinema. And with a career that encompassed period epics, contemporary dramas and Shakespeare adaptations, Kurosawa both thrilled and entertained, but also articulately explored the human condition. This season highlights the importance of Kurosawa upon the cinematic landscape and the influence he has had over countless filmmakers.”

Like a gathering storm, much of Kurosawa’s cinema begins with a portent of the turbulence to come. But within his work lay poetry – both in his visual style and the depth of his characters that spoke to international audiences – and a fascinating exploration of Japanese culture past and present.

Throughout his career, from his startlingly assured first feature SHANSHIRO SUGATA (1943) to the ruminative and often humorous tone of his last, MADADAYO (1993), the thoughts and actions of his characters, and the changes unfolding in the societies they live in, were reflected in the elements.  The climate plays a key role in all of Kurosawa’s work.

January Schedule

Kurosawa’s filmography is explored through the lens of Society, Social Status and Honour. Showcasing narratives that sought to explore contemporary Japanese society, both at the height of conflict and emerging from the devastation of war, screenings include THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (1944), NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH (1946), ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY (1947), SCANDAL (1950) and THE IDIOT (1951) – Kurosawa’s adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s classic novel.

Kurosawa’s films are also examined through societal hierarchies, mostly from the bottom up, as his characters navigate their way through a world fraught with rules and codes. Screenings include THE MEN WHO TREAD ON THE TIGER’S TAIL (1945), THE LOWER DEPTHS (1957), one of his most influential films THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958), his first colour feature DODES’KA-DEN (1970) and KAGEMUSHA (1980).

Kurosawa’s dramas also highlight the importance of honour in the way his characters live their lives from the rural past to the urban present, in films including his most celebrated work, SEVEN SAMURAI (1954), THE BAD SLEEP WELL (1960), SANJURO  (1962) and HIGH AND LOW  (1963).

Rashmon (1950)

Unreliable narration is taken to a new level in the landmark RASHOMON, one of Kurosawa’s finest films and a key work of Japanese cinema. BFI Distribution brings the film back to the big screen in cinemas around the UK and on BFI Player from 6 January.

Honour, truth and treachery clash in Kurosawa’s monumental drama of a crime witnessed and experienced from multiple perspectives, presented in flashback. Toshiro Mifune, Machiko Kyô and Takashi Shimura all impress as a murder is committed, where three people claim separately that they, and they alone, were responsible. While it shows Akira Kurosawa to be a master technician and storyteller, RASHOMON also took on a key role in the promotion of Japanese cinema and culture to an international audience.

Its success at the Venice Film Festival, which awarded it the Golden Lion in 1951, was followed by an honorary Oscar. Masterfully questioning the nature of truth and objectivity, the ‘Rashomon Effect’ was coined in psychology to describe the phenomenon of different people having different perceptions or memories of the same event.

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February Schedule

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In February the retrospective shifts its focus to Kurosawa’s preoccupations with Family and Professional Lives. The programme explores the bonds of family, patriarchs in crisis in I LIVE IN FEAR (1955), Sachiko Murase’s ageing matriarch looking back on her life in RHAPSODY IN AUGUST (1991), as well as Kurosawa’s Shakespearean takes on family and power – Macbeth in THRONE OF BLOOD  (1957) and King Lear in RAN (1985).

Kurosawa and Shakespeare, Adaptation and Reinvention: an illustrated talk by Adrian Wootton, film curator and CEO of Film London, will explore Kurosawa’s remarkable Shakespeare trilogy, which also includes Hamlet in THE BAD SLEEP WELL, adapting Shakespeare plays into unique cinema which also drew deeply on Japanese history and artistic traditions of painting and theatre.

Kurosawa is also viewed through the prism of professional lives, with doctors, bureaucrats, gangsters and samurai as central characters attempting to maintain professionalism as seen in DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948), THE SILENT DUEL (1949), STRAY DOG (1952), IKIRU (1952), YOJIMBO (1961) and RED BEARD (1965).

The February programme will also include screenings of films that are Unclassifiable, but still quintessentially Kurosawaincluding his first film SANSHIRO SUGATA (1943), a thrilling martial arts action tale, its sequel SANSHIRO SUGATA PART TWO (1945), DERSU UZALA (1975), DREAMS  (1990) and MADADAYO (1993), his last film, about the affection between a teacher and his students. Complementing the films will be screenings of Chris Marker’s A.K. (1985), a portrait of Kurosawa and a look at the making of RAN.

Kurosawa’s Legacy

Described by Martin Scorsese as a cinematic ‘giant’, Akira Kurosawa’s continuing influence on generations of international filmmakers cannot be overestimated, with many top directors citing the legendary director as a source of inspiration for their own work.

Even audiences who may not have seen a Kurosawa title directly will have felt the imprint of his cinematic legacy, either referenced in films such as Oliver Hermanus’s recent LIVING (IKIRU), Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (YOJIMBO), John Sturges’s THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (SEVEN SAMURAI), George Lucas’s STAR WARS (HIDDEN FORTRESS), and the movies that inspired the STAR WARS sequels and spin-offs, including Jon Favreau’s THE MANDALORIAN, as well as a wider stylistic and narrative influence on films such as Quentin Tarantino’s KILL BILL and George Miller’s MAD MAX: FURY ROAD amongst others.

Kurosawa’s iconic films consistently score highly in critical polls, yet Akira Kurosawa was always more than the sum of his samurai and action films, as the retrospective shows.

The Kurosawa-Effect

Running alongside the BFI Southbank season is a six-week course, ‘The Kurosawa-Effect’, (Wednesdays 11 Jan – 22 February). 

Led by Professor Stacey Abbott, the course will examine the richness of Kurosawa’s work and his lasting global legacy through his dynamic visual style; innovative storytelling; revitalised approaches to genre and adaptation.

It will also look at his preoccupation with themes of family, society, and honour.

More on BFI Player:

On the small screen, UK audiences will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in Kurosawa’s work with a collection of these 15 films available to subscribers on BFI Player, along with MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI (2016). Directed by Steven Okazaki, the on and off-screen character of Toshiro Mifune, who appeared in 16 Kurosawa films, is explored in this illuminating documentary.


Note that BFI Player can also be accessed on Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV, and Roku (US).

About BFI

Founded in 1933, The British Film Institute (BFI) is the UK’s leading organisation for film and television; a cultural charity that handpicks the very best of global cinema to be enjoyed at festivals, in cinema, and online.

As well as supporting existing and emerging filmmakers, the institute looks after (and draws inspiration from) the BFI National Archive: the world’s most significant film and television archive. It also proudly runs London’s BFI Southbank – renowned as the number one cinema to watch non-English language films in the UK.