The Emperor and His Pearl Harbor.
Reading Tasogawa’s book is much like watching the site of a horrible accident from a distance. The images you conjure into your own mind are much worse than what is likely actually going on, but even still the illusion of everything being okay is shattered and you are suddenly well aware at how fragile everything around you is.
Here is the “description” of the event as provided by Amazon.com:
“When 20th Century Fox planned its blockbuster portrayal of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, it looked to Akira Kurosawa a man whose mastery of the cinema led to his nickname “the Emperor” to direct the Japanese sequences. Yet a matter of three weeks after he began shooting the film in December 1968, Kurosawa was summarily dismissed and expelled from the studio. The tabloids trumpeted scandal: Kurosawa had himself gone mad; his associates had betrayed him; Hollywood was engaged in a conspiracy. Now, for the first time, the truth behind the downfall and humiliation of one of cinema’s greatest perfection ists is revealed in All the Emperor’s Men. Journalist Hiroshi Tasogawa probes the most sensitive questions about Kurosawa’s thwarted ambition and the demons that drove him. His is a tale of a great clash of personalities, of differences in the ways of making movies, and ultimately of a clash between Japanese and American cultures.”
Kurosawa had established his own method of filmmaking and his cast and crew knew this, they were ware of his “eccentricities” and odd behavior when making his films. But the Zanuck family of Twentieth Century Fox was used to the working methods of John Ford and John Houston; men who, despite being difficult to work with, always got the film done on time and in compliance with studio demands. But this method of working was entirely foreign to Akira Kurosawa who was viewed as the supreme ruler of his productions. No one told Kurosawa what to do, and if they dare to try he made his intentions known (and usually in a loud and abrasive way). Akira Kurosawa settled for nothing less than what he wanted, and it is this mindset that led to his downfall.
This brings me to my main topic.
Getting a Fat Head
In any creative industry it is very easy to get fat head syndrome. If people praise your work then you get puffed up and full of pride, and if people dismiss your work then you fall into the “Well, certainly my work is simply better than they are! One day it will be appreciated!” There is also the third group who is dismissed and give their art up because they feel unappreciated. The truth is that all of this mindsets are wrong.
Art should be created to be shared. Art should induce some sort of reaction of emotion. Therefore, it is my belief that art is made for an audience. Why would you paint a portrait only to throw it away? Or write a book and then burn the pages? If your output is never put out then why bother making it? I understand the need to get things out of your system, and I understand how sometimes making something for yourself can be very satisfying, but I think anything creative is meant to be shared. If you enjoy it then so will someone else. But this is not the point here.
When Kurosawa was brought on to be a co-director of Tora! Tora! Tora! he misunderstood and thought he was to be the “supreme director” not just the “director” — that is that he would even oversee the American-half of the film, and finally the finished cut of the film itself. Kurosawa was being courted by an American studio and got a bit of a fat head because of it. Now, there is more at play here than the simple terms I am using, but the point still stands. Kurosawa felt he was better than the production and he was later humbled because of it.
Getting a bloated ego is a dangerous thing for an artist to do. When the art stops reflecting the artist’s intentions and instead reflects the artist’s ego then there is a definite problem.
Now, do not misunderstand, there was certainly fault on both sides of the Tora! Tora! Tora! debacle. Twentieth Century Fox treated Kurosawa very poorly and tried to fit him inside of a box which he was, to be frank, never going to fit inside of, but Kurosawa also was filled up with his own importance and artistry.
The point I’m trying to make is that staying away from the fat head syndrome is very difficult. For the most part it doesn’t matter what road you take, self-importance is around the corner. It is important to remember that art is created not for the artist, but for the audience. If I make a film and it is seen by no one then my film has been of no worth. But that’s the catch! The film should be of worth, not me. I don’t make films to seek glory, I should make films to entertain an audience. If my film fails then so do I, but if the film succeeds then I must be wary of my ego.
Egos will crush Emperors.
Tasogawa’s book is a brilliant study on the Hollywood system, the Japanese mindset, fat head syndrome, and filmmaking in general. Pick it up.