Almost a decade after his death, the career of Akira Kurosawa is still dogged by a few general misconceptions. Folks believe the director simply emerged fully formed from the 1951 Venice Film Festival to become Japan’s premier “Westernized” auteur, and that he mostly made samurai flicks, albeit great ones. This new Eclipse set, however, should rectify the misperception substantially. Three of the five films predate his 1950 breakthrough, Rashomon, and none of them feature a single Bushido blade. And though the title initially seems confusing—doesn’t the vast majority of Kurosawa’s filmography qualify as “postwar”?—the genius of this particular grouping soon becomes apparent. The adjective doesn’t refer to the director but to a Japan whose recovery from defeat provides the backdrop for these films.
Though the entries run the gamut from bittersweet comedy to courtroom potboiler, all of them address the then-current state of the nation in various ways. Scandal (1950) tackles the burgeoning tabloid mentality—a by-product of the West’s presence—with an acidic wit that would make Wilder envious; No Regrets for Our Youth (1947) connects the dots between Japan’s 1930s promilitarism buildup and an imperialism that ended in disaster. Both his updated adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot (1951) and the nuclear-anxiety drama I Live in Fear (1955) explicitly invoke a society on the verge of a nervous breakdown, while even the swooningly romantic One Wonderful Sunday (1947) revolves around the central couple making the most of a penniless situation. Like all of Eclipse’s sets, Postwar Kurosawa is sans extras. However, considering that the films strike such a resonant chord, they are more than enough.