Read Akira Kurosawa's letter to Ingmar Bergman
(Credit: Lindberg Foto / 映画の友)

“Let us hold out together for the sake of movies” – Read Akira Kurosawa’s letter to Ingmar Bergman

“To be an artist means never to avert one’s eyes.”― Akira Kurosawa

When does an artist truly make his most meaningful work? At what stage is the man at his most resonant with the rhythm of his inner artistic expression? Is it after growing up to an age when we are well versed with the ways of the world? Or is it post-childhood, during the turbulent period of adolescence?

Akira Kurosawa, one of the greatest and most influential artistic minds of cinema, wrote to Ingmar Bergman—another genius who was “one of the greatest artists of the 20th century”—letting him know his opinion on the enigmatic subject matter of artistic enlightenment.

“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,” he writes.

He continued in his birthday letter addressed to Mr Bergman who had turned 70 then: “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 years old and am convinced that my real work is just beginning.”

Ingmar Bergman, renowned for his trademark self-deprecatory humour, once famously called his film The Virgin Spring a “touristic, a lousy imitation of Kurosawa”, and added, “At that time my admiration for the Japanese cinema was at its height. I was almost a samurai myself!”

Their mutual respect for the artistry of the other was again evident in the letter, when Kurosawa reciprocated to Bergman’s flattery, remarking: “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 an emotional conclusion to the letter, Kurosawa tenderly pleads to Bergman: “Let us hold out together for the sake of movies.”

Kurosawa died aged 88 and continued to make films till the very end. Bergman too remarkably came out of retirement to make films till the age of 85 before eventually passing away in 2007.

Read the full letter and accompanying transcript, 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,
“Akira Kurosawa.”

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