During the research for my previous article regarding Stanley Kubrick’s fan letter to Ingmar Bergman, I came across another letter penned by a famous director, Akira Kurosawa. I thought I would discuss it in the similar fashion as I did for the Kubrick letter and share it with our readers, as I find this stuff rather fascinating.
The letter is below:
Dear Mr. Bergman,
Please let me congratulate you upon your seventieth birthday.
Your work deeply touches my heart every time I see it and I have learned a lot from your works and have been encouraged by them. I would like you to stay in good health to create more wonderful movies for us.
In Japan, there was a great artist called Tessai Tomioka who lived in the Meiji Era (the late 19th century). This artist painted many excellent pictures while he was still young, and when he reached the age of eighty, he suddenly started painting pictures which were much superior to the previous ones, as if he were in magnificent bloom. Every time I see his paintings, I fully realize that a human is not really capable of creating really good works until he reaches eighty.
A human is born a baby, becomes a boy, goes through youth, the prime of life and finally returns to being a baby before he closes his life. This is, in my opinion, the most ideal way of life.
I believe you would agree that a human becomes capable of producing pure works, without any restrictions, in the days of his second babyhood.
I am now seventy-seven (77) years old and am convinced that my real work is just beginning.
Let us hold out together for the sake of movies.
With the warmest regards,
Kurosawa begins by wishing Bergman a happy birthday, which is quite a nice little touch. He then goes on to write ”Your work deeply touches my heart every time I see it and I have learned a lot from your works and have been encouraged by them. I would like you to stay in good health to create more wonderful movies for us.’ Kurosawa praises Bergman by stating that his work affects him greatly, and that he has learned a lot from the films of Bergman.
This is a great way to the see how the films of one director can help the filmmaking process of another, and shows the evolution of cinema. I find the line, where Kurosawa wishes Bergman ”good health”, quite heart-felt as it shows genuine concern.
The director then goes on to briefly recall the story of Tessai Tomioka, a Japanese painter who was an extremely prolific painter, and it is estimated that he painted approximately 20,000 paintings, and on one occasion he completed 70 paintings in a single day. Tessai’s best works were created in the last years of his life, from age 80 to his death in 1924 at age 88.
I believe that Kurosawa’s decision to mention this artist offers hope not only to Bergman who was turning 70, but to us as well. It shows us that even in old age we can continue to keep making masterpieces.
Often we see old age as a curse, as a hinderance which holds us back, and we treat our elderly as infants which is very demeaning. The line ”I fully realize that a human is not really capable of creating really good works until he reaches eighty.” is a great piece of encouragement, and also reveals that Kurosawa believes in the idea that things get better with age.
Indeed, we can use our life experience to help develop our creative work, and an individual who is 80 years old, compared to a 20-year-old, will have 6 more decades of experience to draw upon. I can only hope this letter inspired Bergman and offered him some reassurance, because I certainly feel less anxious about turning 29!
The aim of Kurosawa’s letter to reassure Bergman, and show how impactful old age can be on creativity, as Kurosawa states ”I believe you would agree that a human becomes capable of producing pure works, without any restrictions, in the days of his second babyhood.” this suggests that being older and wiser, one sees the world with new eyes just like an infant does. This is a truly inspirational letter, from one mature director to another. And encourages Bergman to keep working as Kurosawa ends his letter with “Let us hold out together for the sake of movies.” implying that the world of cinema needs these two great auteurs (which of course is true).
I like to think that the letter helped Bergman, as he continued to make films up until his death in 2003. Akira Kurosawa also continued to make films up until his death in 1998. If they could continue to work way into their late age, then so can anyone else. If you take away anything from this article, please take away the stories of Tessai Tomioka, Kurosawa and Bergman. As Bergman said, “Old age is like climbing a mountain. You climb from ledge to ledge. The higher you get, the more tired and breathless you become, but your views become more extensive.”