“Let us hold out together”: Akira Kurosawa’s touching letter to Ingmar Bergman

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Creativity, maturity, inspiration, growth, decline. These are topics that come up in every artist’s mind, recurrently, even if you are just the best. Questions that always arise as little caterpillars that nibble mental balance, bringing the creatives of our world to wonder if and when it is time to stop. Each one gives a different answer, linked to their own cultural heritage and to the approach with which society deals with the evolution of art. And often, the results you get are diametrically opposed.

In 1988 Ingmar Bergman, one of the most beloved filmmakers of all time, had turned seventy years. With three Academy Awards, six Golden Globes and seven victories at Cannes on his shoulders, he published his autobiography The Magic Lantern, where he confessed his decision to stop making movies. Bergman was Swedish, and we can imagine him as an example of Western society artist, believing that the parable of an artist often reaches its apex about halfway of his career, followed then by a maturity in which a different mannerism can take over, and it’s generally considered less attractive. Seventy years, in the western perspective, is an age more than acceptable to decide to stop the creative process.

Akira Kurosawa, Japanese and immersed in Oriental culture, had a completely different opinion. At that time he was 77 years old and when he’s read Ingmar Bergman’s farewell to the cinema, he considered essential to act. The Oriental culture, you know, is completely different: maturity often means achieving a balance that never existed before, and it is common thinking that the best elegance is reached in advanced age, when you have the necessary the wisdom that every human expression needs.

For this reason, and for the enormous esteem that Kurosawa had for Bergman, he wrote him a moving letter. Explaining the eastern point of view on creativity and age and confidently stating that elderliness is the time when the true nature of our own art emerges. Because every life, before the conclusion, comes back to a second babyhood. The letter is the one you find below, and it is so motivational that it is good to read it again when doubts about your abilities arise.

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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