March 22, 2015

How Legendary Director Akira Kurosawa Used Movement to Tell His Stories Visually

Akira Kurosawa was a master, there's no question, but what made is films so great? There wasn't just one factor, but in another terrific video essay from Tony Zhou, Kurosawa's use of character and camera movement is explored:

What's really interesting about this video essay is that it explores more than one kind of movement. Kurosawa wasn't just a master of camera movement and composition, but also moving his characters in the frame in the most interesting way possible to tell the story. Creating new frames with each camera movement makes them feel much more motivated, especially when the final frame of the movement gives you a completely new piece of information that you wouldn't have gotten if the camera didn't move.

That's really the power of movement in the frame, whether it be camera, character, or both. You're giving the audience new information without needing to tell them. At the end of the video, we're given the reason we do this in the first place — because of the visual stimulation, otherwise it's just radio. That's what makes film special.     

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14 Comments

As good as always. Tony Zhou's videos are simply film lessons. We use them in realization class sometimes.

Thanks sir.

March 22, 2015 at 3:56PM

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Daniel Besalduch Díaz
Audiovisual Comunication student
81

What a great essay! kudos to Master Kurosawa

March 22, 2015 at 4:28PM

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Alex Mandarino
DP / VFX Generalist
233

This may come from a place of complete ignorance and missing points completely but after seeing these types of videos I am always left somewhat bothered. I can't help but feel that these videos lack an objective perspective and that because a director is considered either a legend(in this case Kurosawa) or a bonehead like Micheal Bay, that all their respective shots are described in that positive/negative light. For example the description at 2:30 "one of my favorite things is that his blocking is unrealistic and exaggerated", if this was a video essay on Micheal Bay that point would have been the same but that exact opposite tone,"too often does Micheal Bay rely on over the top, unrealistic and exaggerated blocking, he lacks subtlety and treats the audience like children". Anyway I hope I don't come across as disrespectful because I still appreciate Tony Zhou's videos but I am weary of directors or artists in general of being placed in these boxes of unequivocal good or bad based on public opinion.

March 22, 2015 at 4:57PM

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Probably because Bay's audience are children. Escapism, mind deadening pretty postcard shots with explosions and hot women to a trendy soundtrack. Fight scenes that seem to go forever. Apparently the way to make a sequel of an action flick better than the first is longer fights.....

Just once I'd like to see Bay make a film that had no guns.

March 23, 2015 at 12:16AM, Edited March 23, 12:16AM

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Did Armageddon have any guns? It's been a long time since I've seen it.

March 23, 2015 at 10:33AM

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Daniel Thoen
ne'er-do-well
272

Of course it had guns. remember the line "you carried a gun to space?"

March 23, 2015 at 4:31PM

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Ken Ho
81

You are correct. I remember the movie being over the top, but I didn't remember how far.

Armageddon movie sins.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E8dcU5ntebA

March 23, 2015 at 5:30PM

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Daniel Thoen
ne'er-do-well
272

I think this is a fair point on the value of exaggerated actions. The actress' reaction in 2:44 completely pulled me out of the immersion of the film, since she really over acted. If someone did that today the audience would laugh, not empathize. Even some of the other shots feel dated and over the top, to the point that I honestly could not imagine being successful today.

However, the analysis on movement was really useful and insightful and I will definitely try to keep that in mind for my next project. One challenge I can see is achieving the right balance, since it could dilute the potency of an actor's performance if the motion becomes distracting vs. enriching. Hence one of the reasons he is considered a master. ;)

Nice work Tony!

March 23, 2015 at 5:08PM

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Kyle Langenbach
Writer/Producer/Director/Editor/Janitor
93

Sometimes dated and even corny is a result of over imitation because the author was so influential. Tony could be accused of treating the audience like children but only if you could be certain Tony new exactly who is audience are in terms of their level of understanding in the first place. As this is impossible to know for anyone making instructional or educational videos for the net, he has to assume that everyone from the beginner to the professional is watching and by way of inclusion use a language that lets everyone in on the action.

Good job Tony.

March 26, 2015 at 8:46PM

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John Stockton
Filmmaker, Editor.
383

Zhou's videos are all excellent. Love that he puts them out for free, but they are anything but free for him to make. The just seem to get longer and longer, so I'm sure he's sinking more and more time into them. If you enjoy his stuff, you should support him and his work here: https://www.patreon.com/everyframeapainting

March 23, 2015 at 1:05PM, Edited March 23, 1:05PM

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David S.
3197

Just watched YOJIMBO and noticed that Kurosawa really doesnt do CUs. But the compostion still allows us to see enough to know what the characters are feeling. Im sure shooting like that also saves a lot of set up time. But with Kurosawa's meticulous nature , that may not have made a difference.

March 23, 2015 at 4:38PM, Edited March 23, 4:38PM

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Olu Yomi Ososanya
Writer/Director
89

Actors in the time that Akira Kurosawa made films were mostly trained in Kabuki theaters which was a popular, stagey, very physical, over-the-top style that many who view Kurosawa's films mistake for over-the-top filmmaking. The exaggerated acting style may be why Kurosawa avoided a lot of CU shots. If you were to keep the cinematic shooting exactly as it is and put in modern, more subtle film actors, I bet many viewers would notice toned down, brilliantly cinematic films instead.

March 23, 2015 at 11:22PM

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Bari Boswell
3D Storyboard artist, Director, Editor, Sound Designer
81

A very interesting video and I have now subscribed to his YouTube channel. It certainly made me think more about how to use movement to add visual interest to dialogue heavy scenes and to use the visuals to convey meaning to support the spoken word.

I have been thinking along the lines of something thematically and structurally resembling a soap opera in the vein of Eastenders and then using the style of dialogue to break out from any conventions assumed by the genre. I can see now that I can attack the conventions on a second front by making what is happening visually more dynamic.

March 29, 2015 at 3:20PM

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Julian Richards
Film Warlord
1310

Awesome! I love his videos!

June 7, 2015 at 4:46PM

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Donovan Vim Crony
Director, DP, Editor, VFX, Sci-Fi Lover
183