Acclaimed film and theatre director Julie Taymor paid tribute to legendary Japanese filmmaker Kurosawa Akira in Tokyo on Tuesday, crediting his influence on her deciding to enter the film industry and contributing to her multi-cultural world view.
“I go back to when I saw my first ‘foreign film’ in Paris, when I was 15 years old. I watched ‘Rashomon’ and that changed my life,” said Taymor. “Kurosawa! He is the reason, his movies are the reason, that I became a film director.”
“Rashomon,” based on a Japanese folk talk, won the Venice Film Festival’s Golden Lion in 1951 and has since emerged as a classic of global cinema.
Taymor, whose credits include the original Broadway production of “The Lion King” and the 1997 film “Frida,” is head of this year’s jury at the Tokyo International Film Festival, which will decide winners in its competition section. Her words came at a jury press conference, ahead of seeing any of the selected movies for the festival.
Taymor said that the creative project she is most keen to work on next is “an interspecies love story” based on a Korean tale “Baekho” (or “White Tiger”).
“‘White Tiger’ is about the abandonment of not only a princess from an ancient myth, but also of nature. It is an interspecies love story about the future and the abandonment of Mother Earth,” Taymor said. “I feel very much that identifying with the animal kingdom and nature is really critical right now if we [humans] are to survive… And maybe we shouldn’t. Maybe it’s time now. But as an artist, I still will make my last attempt to inspire people to really open their eyes.”
Taymor quickly headed off accusations of cultural appropriation, framing multiculturalism as a vector for species survival.
“I am doing something that is East-West, which is hard in this time because everybody is [talking] about identity. Only you can do your story. And you can do your story, right. If you’re African American, you do this. If you’re a white person you do this. If you’re Japanese, you do this. But that’s not ultimately how we will survive,” Taymor said. “Where we will survive is in joining forces and sharing our cultures.”
She thanked the Tokyo festival for reinstating its Kurosawa Akira Award, a prize that had been in abeyance for several years, revived this year with honors for Alejandro González Iñárritu and Japanese director Fukada Koji.
“Kurosawa really truly is the master of beauty, creativity and storytelling,” said Taymor. “Also, I like to direct Shakespeare. So, when I see his Shakespeare films, I’m very moved and overwhelmed.”
Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” and “Ran” are adapted from plays by William Shakespeare.
Taymor’s fellow jurors are Portuguese director João Pedro Rodrigues (“The Last Time I Saw Macao,” “To Die Like A Man”), Korean actor Shin Eun-kyung (“Miss Granny,” “Train to Busan”), Japanese cinematographer Yanagijima Katsumi (“Dolls,” “Battle Royale”) and French film historian and documentarian Marie-Christine de Navacelle.
The jurors were asked to reflect on streaming, politics and the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. Taymor’s responses again went in an unexpected direction.
“The origin of all performing arts — theatre and film — a big part of it is entertainment. But another big part of it is healing,” Taymor said. “The shaman, like the first director and artist, was also a healer. When a village would have a drought, or a child would die from disease, there was always a production where the shaman as storyteller would take a journey inside of him- or herself and bring the village together. It’s an exorcism of the darkness.”
“I’ve had that as an artist many times, with ‘The Lion King’ in theatre, and with film, where the experience of watching someone else’s story… gives us not just hope, [but also] the effect of being able to identify with another person,” Taymor continued. “Somehow that reflects back on how you live. It’s a great role we have as artists to be able to do that, in addition to making money for the producers and entertaining people.”