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  • Wu, Li-Hsueh

    Truth and Beauty:

    Confucian Philosophy in the Films of Akira


    Through the Documentary Film Medium

    Doctor of Design



  • I


    This doctoral research consists of two 90 minute DVD documentaries and a

    complementary text about the Japanese film director, Akira Kurosawa, a major figure

    in 20th century cinema. It focuses on how the Confucian cultural heritage has

    informed many aspects of his approach to filmmaking, especially his manifestation of

    philosophical and aesthetic concepts.

    To bridge the gap in the existing critiques of Kurosawa’s films, the research

    incorporates critical analysis of interviews with twelve filmmakers and scholars in

    philosophy, history, arts, drama and film. The interviews discuss the aesthetic

    elements from traditional arts and theatre, and address a failure in the literature to

    draw from the deep meaning of the Confucian cultural heritage.

    The first documentary, An Exploration of Truth in the Films of Akira Kurosawa,

    has three sections: The Way of Self- Cultivation, The Way of Cultivating Tao and The

    Way of Cultivating Buddhism. It explores how the films of Kurosawa manifested the

    Confucian philosophy via inner self-cultivation, which displayed his humanist values.

    It also examines the ‘outer enlightenment pattern’ in Kurosawa’s films which effects

    profound dramatic tension. The interrelationship between Confucianism, Shinto and

    Buddhism in different periods of Kurosawa’s films is explored, focusing on issues of

    historical background, cultural heritage and philosophy and film narrative elements.

    The second documentary, The Origin and Renovation of Traditional Arts and

  • II

    Theatre in the Films of Akira Kurosawa, has three sections: Structure and

    Mise-En-Scene from Noh and Kabuki, Representation and Symbolism from Noh

    Masks and Chinese Painting and Color and Mise-En-Scene from The ‘Five Elements’

    Theory and Japanese Prints. It explores not only the deeply symbolic aspects of the

    films of Kurosawa, by tracing the roots of his cultural heritage including Noh, Kabuki,

    Chinese painting and Japanese prints, but also his use of those traditional arts and

    theatre to inform his film aesthetics and narrative elements.

    As an adjunct to the two documentaries, the written text explores the truth of the

    constant virtues and the beauty of yugen in Kurosawa’s films, to address the extisting

    inadequate film critiques. The text focuses on how Kurosawa injected Confucian

    principles of ‘self-cultivation’ (修身), ‘The Five Constant Virtues’ (五常) and human

    nature into the philosophy and action of his characters. It also examines the aesthetic

    concept of yugen (幽玄) and the philosophical concept of the Tao in Kurosawa’s films,

    which manifested the Confucian philosophy, and its inter-relationship with Taoism

    and Chan Buddhism (禪宗). The aesthetic concept includes the forms and symbolism

    of traditional art forms consisting of elements of Noh and Chinese painting, including

    flash back structure, spirit character, symbolic use of colors, and mise-en-scene,

    which was drawn on by Kurosawa. This text also includes the production strategy and

    production process of the two documentaries. It intends to provide an overview of the

    conceptual, craft and collaborative skills required in the phases of development,

    pre-production, production and post production of the two documentaries.

    This research shows how the films of Akira Kurosawa could be both an illustration of

    a philosophical theory and also sites of deep thought on the value of humanity within

  • III

    the Confucian philosophy. The two documentaries may advance film research by

    communicating visual and audio interpretation of film philosophy and aesthetic

    narrative elements in Kurosawa’s films, to both contemporary film makers and

    students. It is hoped that the text will contribute to film theory by recognizing the

    distinct use of Confucian philosophy in the films of Kurosawa.

  • IV


    This study could not have been completed without the generous assistance of many

    people and organizations in Australia, Japan and Taiwan. I ask in advance for the

    forgiveness of those whose names I may have neglected to mention here.

    For crucial financial support, I would like to thank the following organizations: the

    Ministry of Education and Chaoyang University of Technology in Taiwan, who have

    supported me with a scholarship and made possible my doctoral study at the National

    Institute of Design Research, Swinburne University of Technology in Australia.

    I owe a sincere debt of gratitude to Akira Kurosawa and several film companies. Due

    to their production and distribution of the films of Akira Kurosawa, the researcher can

    study this doctoral project. The companies are Toho Films Co, Ltd, A Shochiku Films

    Production, Daiei Films Production, Kurosawa Film Production, Greenway Film

    Production, Herald Arc, Int., Nippon Herald Films, Inc., Moscow Film Corporation,

    Warner Brothers Entertainment Inc., Steven Spielberg Presentation, and Dentsu


    This study began as a doctoral project at the National Institute of Design Research,

    Swinburne University of Technology, I would like to thank Professor Allan Whitfield,

    Dr. Deirdre Barron, Dr. Carolyn Barnes, Dr. Keith Robertson, and Dr. Gavin Melles,

    whose academic standards and generous guidance helped me to shape my ideas. I am

    most grateful to the members of my project committee, who worked with me on the

  • V

    research over several years: Professor Allan Whitfield, Nanette Carter and Elizabeth

    Ninnis. I would also especially like to thank Pam Green and John Bowden and their

    staff at the Office of Research and Graduate Studies of Swinburne University of

    Technology, who organized research events for graduate students to advance our skills

    and knowledge of research.

    I would also like to thank the following people who took the time to share their

    knowledge with me by agreeing to be interviewed for my doctoral project:

    Chen,Wei-fen (陳瑋芬) , Ho, Sze-Shen (何思慎), Tsang, Roy (曾壯祥), Chang,

    Chang-Yen (張昌彥), Tseng, Lien-Jung (曾連榮), Hung, Ya-Wen (洪雅文), Lin, Yu-

    Pin (林于竝), Wong, Zdmond (黃建業), Chen, Mei-Ho (陳美合), Wong, Toon (王童),

    Lin,Tsan-Ting (林贊庭), Liao, Ching- Song (廖慶松). I would also like to thank my

    technical crew, Chan, Ping-Chun (詹秉錞), Peng, Guel-Sheng (彭貴祥) and Wang,

    Chen-Yu (王鎮宇), who helped me to record the interviews. The names of the

    interviewees and my technical crew are gratefully listed in the credits of my two

    documentaries. Some interviewees are also listed in the bibliography of this text.

    Any success in my life belongs to my father Wu, Yung-Chang (吳永常) and my

    mother Lee, Lai-Yu (李來有). If I had not been educated with their honest mind and

    had not been supported by them to complete my doctoral research, I would be unable

    to further my career and attain the realization of this study. Finally, I would like to

    dedicate my doctoral project to all the members of my family, especially my parents,

    my sisters, my husband Yee, Mun-Bew (余文彪) and my daughter, Yee, Diane (余題

    安). Thank you for supporting me and understanding my need to spend time away

    from home in pursuing this research overseas.

  • VI


    I declare that this doctoral research project contains no material previously

    submitted for a degree at any university or other educational institution. To the

    best of my knowledge, it contains no materials previously published or written by

    another person, except where due reference is made in the text of the project.

    Wu, Li-Hsueh

  • VII

    Table of Contents

    Abstract I

    Acknowledgements IV

    Declaration VI

    Table of Contents VII

    List of Figures XI

    List of Tables XVII

    Part One

    Truth and Beauty: Confucian Philosophy in the Films of

    Akira Kurosawa 1

    Chapter 1

    Introduction 2

    1.1 The Field of Research 2

    1.2 The Debate on ‘Humanism’ in Kurosawa’s Films

    and the Gap in Previous Research 6

    1.3 The Method and the Significance of this Research 9

    1.4 Outline of the Text 11

  • VIII

    Chapter 2

    Historical Background, Cultural Influences and the Western

    Reception of Kurosawa’s Films 16

    2.1 Introduction 16

    2.2 Historical Background of the Main Concepts of Confucianism

    and their Influence on Japanese Culture 18

    2.3 The Influence of Confucian Philosophy on Akira Kurosawa 36

    2.4 Humanist Values and Their Manifestation in Kurosawa