Last week I posted briefly about the Kurosawa film Hidden Fortress. I didn't have time to include the aspect of the film that most provoked reflection on my part, so here goes...
The most interesting thing for me, beyond the perspective of the "two lowliest characters" (inspiration for Star Wars) or the interesting plot or the innovative cinematography, was what influenced Kurosawa to challenge traditional Japanese values. And by "traditional" I mean very traditional, in the sense that a majority of Japanese don't necessarily share the values today (or even in Kurosawa's day).
Some of the values espoused in Hidden Fortress include kindness to enemies, human equality, and self-sacrifice (even on the part of the most "important" or powerful people). These jarringly confront the traditional Japanese values of, respectively, shame and face-saving, social hierarchy, and sacrifice of "lesser" beings for nobility. I would love to recount each of the scenes where I thought Kurosawa expertly juxtaposes these opposing values, but the best thing is probably for you to watch the movie and see for yourself.
The question in my mind is the influence behind Kurosawa's challenge of traditional values. Was the influence largely western cinema/art/values? Kurosawa was greatly influenced in his cinematography by non-Asian directors, and is often considered quite un-Japanese. Or was the influence simply upheaval in society and values in Japan? Or was it primarily Kurosawa himself and his willingness to express his worldview regardless of his culture and its traditional values?