Cutting Edge Issue 2 - Page 16

One by one they introduced themselves: “Takashi Shimura, at your service… I am Toshiro Mifune… Minoru Chiaki. I am only an actor, so please go easy on me!. . Seiji Miyaguchi… .Yoshio Inaba… Daisuke Kato… Isao Kimura…” When the introductions were complete, Kurosawa outlined his vision for the film. “The plot is simple,” he said. “The residents of a small farming village hire seven samurai to protect them from marauding bandits. But I hope to make the film enjoyable in new ways, one of which will be to make the martial arts scenes more exciting and realistic. To help us achieve authenticity, I have enlisted the cooperation of these two masters.” With that he turned to Sugino and Sasamori, his face glowing with enthusiasm and anticipation, and they all began an animated discussion of the film and budo in general. Preparations for the shooting began the very next day. The actors tried on their costumes while the rest of the staff busied themselves with other preparations. Sasamori appeared on Sugino Sensei (Right) overseeing instruction on set the set one day looking glum: “The Ministry of Education has just asked me to go off to teach in Europe. I don’t know how long I will have to be away, but I doubt if I’ll be able to continue working on the film.” 14 | CUTTING EDGE influenced by the largely decorative style of the kabuki theater, but in making Seven Samurai, Kurosawa intended to address the question, “What should a sword fight really look like on film?” Mifune (Below left) and Sugino Sensei (Right) However he told Kurosawa, “Even though I have to bow out there’s really nothing to worry about since Sugino Sensei here can teach everything from spear to iai and even aikido. I leave you in good hands.” When it came time to take commemorative photos of the cast and crew, Sasamori refused to join in since he was no longer part of the production. Sugino and the rest were impressed with his sense of honor and personal integrity. Kurosawa, though undoubtedly disappointed, took Sasamori’s words to heart and did not hire a replacement, leaving Sugino as the sole martial arts instructor on the set of what was to be one of the director’s most important films. The filming was fraught with difficulties from the beginning. An unexpectedly long time had been spent finding suitable locations. The horses kept refusing to perform according to their riders’ commands. And poor weather began to throw much of the shooting off schedule. Spirits were low. But Sugino remained patient and bent his undivided attention to instructing the cast, beginning with basic Katori Shinto-ryu sword movements, correct posture and the proper handling of weapons. Kurosawa asked Sugino to instruct the actors in techniques that were as authentic as possible from a martial arts perspective. Fight choreography in such dramas had previously been He had already begun exploring this question in one of his earlier films, Rashomon, notably in the fierce confrontation between the bandit played by Toshiro Mifune and the traveller played by Masayuki Mori. This scene featured some of the ugliest fighting the genre had ever seen, as Kurosawa sought a new filmic language that included combatants trembling violently with fear and leaping back in terror whenever their swords came even slightly in contact. It was an unusual piece of work for the period but earned high acclaim from critics and audiences around the world as the first realistic-looking sword battle ever to emerge from the Japanese cinema. Sugino, too, was interested in pursuing authenticity. Assisted by his student Sumie Ishibashi, he demonstrated the sword and iai of Katori Shinto-ryu in a way that gave both Kurosawa and his cast a strong sense of what bujutsu was about. Something that caught Kurosawa’s attention was Sugino’s solid, wellbalanced personal deportment, and he ordered the actors to emulate this as best they could including the way he walked, the way he kneeled down and any other aspects of his everyday manner they might notice. Kurosawa saw that there was a significant difference in stability between ordinary people and the samurai of old who spent their days with heavy swords at their waists. “I am proud of nothing I have done, other than with him.” Mifune on his work with his thenestranged friend, Akira Kurosawa.