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The Religious Affiliation of Director
Akira Kurosawa

Collier's article/presentation focuses largely on Kurosawa and the Buddhist and spiritual aspects of his films. From: Kenneth W. Collier, "Film as a Spiritual Art", Presented to the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, 9 May 2004 (http://www.ussb.org/sermonwrit04-05-09FilmasaSpiritualArt.htm):
Art is the creation of an I-Thou relationship between an artist and an audience that has the power to transcend time, space, and culture. And that is why art is such an unspeakable thing. "If I could have said it in words, I wouldn't have gone to all the trouble and expense of making a film." But Kurosawa couldn't, so he made a film, and Andrew Wyeth made a painting, and Chopin wrote a nocturne, and Artur Rubinstein played that nocturne, and so on for all the arts...

So how do we tell the difference between film as entertainment and film as art? Consider Rashomon. As far as I can tell, Kurosawa was not a practicing Buddhist, but his film is filled with Buddhist thinking. How could that be? Because he was Japanese, and it is not possible to grow up Japanese and fail to imbibe Buddhist ideas, just as it is not possible to grow up American and not imbibe Christian ideas. So I think that one important way of looking at Rashomon is to look for Buddhist ideas about being human and about growing into deeper humanity. I don't have time to deal with this in detail, but in outline, this is how I see this film. And I might note that at this point I am getting close to one of my growing edges.

The central theme of Rashomon is the non-absoluteness of what we experience. There are four stories told, and each is both the same and radically different. The outline of the stories is the same: a bandit captures a samurai, seduces his wife; releases the samurai; and in the ensuing melee, the samurai is killed. It is the details of the stories that make them seem irreconcilably different. Was it a seduction or a rape? Did the bandit kill the samurai, or did the wife? Or did he commit hara-kiri? And so on.

So which story is the real story? Which really happened? And who is not telling the truth? When I watch the movie, I keep hearing the Buddhist teachers insisting "Not Two!" What they mean is that when trying to understand our world, we need to realize that we and all those others out there on the other side of our skin are "Not Two;" we are all the Buddha; we are all one; we are all I-Thou. To be awakened--enlightened--is to understand this and thus to fall in love with all.

Buddhism is a sort of ultimate monism. To live an awakened life is to pierce the illusion that I-It is the end of the matter and to embrace the truth that appears as I-Thou, as interdependence. A favorite Buddhist way of saying this that we inter-are, that our existence as beings is so intertwined that it is, ultimately, not possible to separate us.

I think that Kurosawa is expressing this idea. He is telling us not to notice the surface differences between the stories. They are not important; they are as they are. From a spiritual point of view, it is not difference that matters. What matters is that we are Not Two; we are I-Thou; we are one. To break through into a deeper wisdom is to come to accept that the material world is beautiful exactly because and when we can see it through eyes that embrace it as Thou, leaving It behind.

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Webpage created 1 June 2005. Last modified 25 August 2005.
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