Ashmon,Seven Samurai, Ikiru, Throne Of Blood… Akira Kurosawa has a fair few classics to his name.
None of them are part of this self-explanatory collection, which packages together the cinema titan’s first six features, up to (but not including) 1948’s Drunken Angel, the yakuza drama the Japanese auteur counted as his first mature work.
So, no works of genius here, and nothing approaching the technical virtuosity or majestic grandeur of a Seven Samurai or Ran.
There are, however, glimpses of the dynamic storyteller Kurosawa would become, as he finds his narrative and stylistic leg-
(master/ disciple relationships, bold camera angles, quick-fire editing…) in tales that range from 13th-Century feudal Japan to bombdamaged, post-war Tokyo.
His 1943 debut, Sanshiro Sugata, is a martial arts epic about the birth of judo, here followed by a 1945 sequel that introduces karate and Yank-bashing into the mix.
Of the rest, the most ambitious is No Regrets For Our Youth (1946), in which a left-wing professor falls foul of Japan’s militaristic regime and his love-torn daughter finds self-worth in the rice paddies.
The Most Beautiful (1944) is patriotic propaganda about super-keen female factory workers;
They Who Step On The Tiger’s Tail (1945) is a short, static adventure about a 12th-Century shogun fleeing his deceitful brother; and One Wonderful Sunday (1947) offers a caustic vision of an Americanised,post-war Japan – but is also a meandering wallow.
Judged in isolation, you wouldn’t peg Kurosawa as a future master based on this fairly mediocre sextet. What we need, then, is some context– helpfully provided by Total Film writer Philip Kemp in an essay-centric booklet.