With over 50 years of experience and 30 movies under his belt, Akira Kurosawa is a legend in the world of film. Director of Seven Samurai, Ran, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo and more, he was a master of his craft who knew how to use just about everything in the filmmaker's toolkit to create some of the most enduring images ever put to celluloid.
So, it might be a little unfair to compare him to Joss Whedon, who gave us Buffy, Firefly and The Avengers.
But that’s exactly what Tony Zhou’s "Akira Kurosawa - Composing Movement" video does. The bulk of the clip has Zhou explain why and how Akira Kurosawa used movement, weather and careful positioning in all his shots to help tell the story or establish the emotional state of a character or whole groups of characters.
The point we're concerned with is the 4:10 mark, where Zhou uses a scene from The Avengers as a point of contrast to a scene from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai. Both scenes show the main characters of each movie grieve fallen comrades. Kurosawa’s scene is dynamic and alive with a variety of interesting gestures, locations, and camera moves, whereas Whedon's recalls the dull camerawork in the Star Wars prequels (which coincidentally also co-stars Samuel L. Jackson).
"Throughout this scene, the only things that move are the camera and Nick Fury," Zhou explains in the video. "Even though we have weather outside and actors in the background, none of them are used. Notice that camera movement doesn't have a beginning or an end, and there’s no variation. Each shot goes in the exact same direction.
"But in Seven Samurai, the camera moves have a distinct beginning, middle and end, and each shot changes the direction from the previous one. As [the main character] climbs up, Kurosawa uses the movement of the flag to cut smoothly into [another] angle – all Seven Samurai, and their banner, together. This scene has every type of movement, carefully pieced together and spaced throughout: the weather, the group, the individual, the camera, the cut.
"But [The Avengers'] scene tells its story mostly through dialogue. Sure, the camera moves, but it's pointless movement. For all the money that was put into it this scene feels flat."
Maybe Zhou makes The Avengers look and sound worse than it is, but he makes a compelling point. For something that’s so popular and has made so much money – over $1.5 billion – on a a huge $220 million budget, shouldn’t we as an audience expect more from our $17 tickets than a camera that just kind of hovers there as the most expensive actors on the planet sit in comfy chairs and recite lines? As Zhou's video demonstrates, there are more interesting ways to tell a story in a visual format like film than that.
Perhaps that’s something moviegoers can keep in mind when The Avengers: Age of Ultron comes out May 1.
Zhou’s Kurosawa video also coincides with the news that Captain America: The Winter Soldier directors Joe and Anthony Russo will take over from Joss Whedon as the directors of the final pair of Avengers movies, Infinity War Parts 1 and 2.
As for Tony Zhou, he has made a number of other terrific short videos as part of his "Every Frame A Painting" series, which are basically mini filmmaking classes without the exorbitant tuition costs and snooty air of pretension. They dissect the qualities and flaws of numerous directors, actors and genres with stand-outs that include videos about Jackie Chan and action movies, Robin Williams and physical acting, the Ryan Gosling movie Drive and American vs. English comedies.