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Akira Kurosawa's Samurai Movies Inspired Hollywood Classics

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If you like these classic movies, you'll love the Akira Kurosawa films that inspired them.

Akira Kurosawa, considered Japan's greatest filmmaker and one of the world's greatest, is not a household name to Americans. But directing 30 films over 57 years before his death Sept. 6, 1998, his career belongs in the film pantheon. The director Francis Ford Coppola once noted that Kurosawa "didn't just make a masterpiece or two masterpieces, he made eight masterpieces."

He also was tremendously influential on American movies, his samurai genre movies especially providing inspiration for Westerns and sci-fi epics we all know and love. If you'd like a way into Kurosawa's body of work, check out these famous American movies that were inspired by Kurosawa masterpieces. His work maybe more familiar than you think.

If you like The Magnificent Seven, watch Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai.

Made only six years after 1954's The Seven Samurai, John Sturges' The Magnificent Seven is at the same time a classic American Western and a faithful remake of the Japanese original, leaving the structure of the plot largely intact while translating samurai tropes into the language of the Old West.

And if you're more into animation than Westerns, Pixar's A Bug's Life is loosely inspired by The Seven Samurai as well.

If you like A Fistful of Dollars, watch Kurosawa's Yojimbo.

Spaghetti Western master Sergio Leone established his career in 1964 with A Fistful of Dollars, featuring Clint Eastwood's iconic performance as a gunfighting drifter. But did you know that it's a very close adaptation of Akira Kurosawa's 1961 film, Yojimbo? Yojimbo's star, Toshiro Mifune, was just as iconic to Japanese audiences in his role as a wandering lone samurai. This video puts scenes from both movies side by side to show how similar they are:

If you like Star Wars, watch Kurosawa's Hidden Fortress.

The films in George Lucas' Star Wars series are some of the most well-loved American movies of the 20th century. But did you know that Lucas took inspiration for the first movie of the series, 1977's Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, from 1958's Hidden Fortress, another Kurosawa epic? Translating samurai swords into light sabers, A New Hope is not as close an adaptation as the Westerns above, but they both feature a princess caught behind enemy lines, and both are told from the perspective of two lowly foot soldiers — the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 in A New Hope. Lucas is open about how Kurosawa's visual style in general and certain elements of Hidden Fortress in particular influenced him:

As George Lucas mentions, not only was Kurosawa influential on American filmmakers, American filmmakers, especially those from the silent era and John Ford, greatly influenced Kurosawa. Though they initially may seem exotic and unfamiliar, they are great films that are more approachable than you might think.