The Compassionate Kurosawa (Introduction)

by Ezekiel Fry

A few years ago I wrote an extended study on Akira Kurosawa’s work and the source material that inspires his greatest originality. Here, in American Gloom, I would like to present this series of essays. By presenting this I hope to (perhaps merely by association) contrast the notions of the world, and those who inhabit it, put forth by Kurosawa to those of the gloomiest disposition: Americans. In the introductory passage to the last essay on Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian I intimated that there is a piece of our humanity that America shudders to examine. We need characters like Judge Holden, we need monsters that are somehow “inhuman” (although this “inhumanity” is always far too human, what else would it be?). It appears to me that this desire to mythologize attitudes and actions we find truly abhorrent arises from a desire to push aside the human experience, to deny human frailty, to believe that humankind is perfectible. In short, to push onward with the great blind eye of American Positivism. From my vantage point this is far from a good thing. We are nothing more than beautiful beasts. It would behoove us to remember this, to never shrink from the dark corners of the soul, and to embrace compassion in the spirit of Kurosawa. Kurosawa drew so much of his artistic outlook from Dostoevsky, and to begin this study here is a passage, perhaps my favorite, from Dostoevsky’s greatest work, The Brothers Karamazov (Garnett translation):

She had died quite suddenly in a garret, according to one story, of typhus, or as another version had it, of starvation. Fyodor Pavlovitch was drunk when he heard of his wife’s death, and the story is that he ran out into the street and began shouting with joy, raising his hands to Heaven: ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,’ but others say he wept without restraint like a little child, so much so that people were sorry for him, in spite of the revulsion he inspired. It is quite possible that both versions were true, that he rejoiced at his release, and at the same time wept for her who released him. As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we suppose. And we ourselves are, too (6). [End of chapter one]