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ON THE DEATH OF AKIRA KUROSAWA:
The Battle Against Egoism
 
 
    On September 6, 1998, Akira Kurosawa, one of the world's great directors, died. He was 88. During his long life he made some truly remarkable films. Unquestionably, he was one of the few filmmakers in the history of cinema, who used this medium as an expression of a spiritual search.
 
    His intense seeking for explanations to life's puzzling questions and tragedies opened his eyes to some basic and profound faults within our human nature. Already in an early masterpiece Rashomon he makes an astonishing observation about people. Unfortunately, as is often the case with the work of great artists, his films are frequently misinterpreted and thus their value to humanity is greatly diminished. Rashomon is a clear-cut example of this. Its plot is simplicity itself: three people are brought together by fate and, we are told, something horrible takes place between them. What was it that happened between them and who was responsible for the tragedy? This is the question that each character attempts to answer and convey to the audience. We end up with three completely different and contradictory stories of what might have taken place. This mystery is never solved in the film and, since three different versions of the truth are presented (and all seem plausible), the conclusion is usually made that Kurosawa wanted to make a point of how there is no such thing as an objective truth. Kurosawa himself, however, opposes this interpretation. His eloquent rebuff is worth quoting here, for it can help us understand much more than just his film. It can help us confront a common, pleasant and deeply rooted misconception that each person has his or her own truth and that, therefore, there is no particular need to seek a higher, objective Perspective on life. Kurosawa clearly perceived what lies behind such a distorted view:

"Human beings are unable to be honest with themselves. They cannot talk about themselves without embellishing. This script ["Rashomon"] portrays such human beings - the kind who cannot survive without lies to make them feel they are better people than they really are. It even shows this sinful need for flattering falsehood going beyond the grave - even the character who dies cannot give up his lies when he speaks to the living through a medium. Egoism is a sin the human being carries with him from birth; it is the most difficult to redeem. This film is like a strange picture scroll that is unscrolled and displayed by the ego." (from Something Like an Autobiography by Kurosawa)

    Labeling egoism as a "sin" is an extremely courageous thing to do and talking about the difficulty of redeeming egoism is a statement of a genuine seeker. Today those, who seek an objective perspective on reality, have a difficult time distinguishing all the various forms of egoism behind the many accepted modes of living and behavior. Moreover, it is necessary to identify and to confront the very cause of egoism. This becomes possible with the in-depth probing into the New Knowledge offered in the book "IN THE LIGHT OF TRUTH: THE GRAIL MESSAGE" by Abd-ru-shin.

    A stunning example of one man's valiant attempt to overcome his egoism is given in the film Ikiru. Confronted with the shocking news of a fatal disease the main character undertakes a desperate search for the purpose of his existence. The true battle is between his spirit and his ego, and not with his cancer. As he fights this inner war, he gradually sees himself and the world around him in a new, sobering light. Another example of this can be seen in Kurosawa's great masterpiece "Kagemusha". Here a man battles to overcome not only his egoism, but also his baseness and his superficiality. And in this struggle with himself he acquires those long-forgotten masculine virtues: self-restraint, dignity, courage and refinement.

    In Ran, one of Kurosawa's last films, we see how the evilseeds of egoism sprout and grow into a catastrophe involving the slaughter of hundreds (maybe even thousands) of people. Among the most unforgettable images of Kurosawa's entire output are the masterfully choreographed battle scenes captured without live sound to the mournful, longing music of Toru Takemitsu (this has been imitated several times by others since then, but never to the same effect). In the aftermath of the carnage, one is left to contemplate how many senseless wars have been fought and how many people have died because they could not see themselves for what they truly were. And what about the major "pillars" of our society: religion, government, business, science, family, education, culture, sports? Are not these also contaminated with the underlying self-deception that we are better than we actually are, that we know more than we actually do? If we are honest with ourselves, we will recall numerous occasions, when each one of these pillars has suffered a major collapse under the pressure of some kind of well-timed circumstance! (After all, in Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala, it is the simple, more natural hunter Dersu Uzala, who saves the educated, more sophisticated Russian captain from the Siberian elements, and not the other way around.)

     It is a grave tendency of all people in all cultures to overestimate themselves - the end result of which can only be the complete annihilation of civilization as we have developed it. Kurosawa reminds us of this by turning his camera upwards at key points during the battles in Ran. We see an awesome sky with dark clouds parting to let the Rays from Above through, waiting for someone (anyone!) to stop and look searchingly upwards. This reminder is Kurosawa's greatest legacy to mankind.