The most well-known of all Japanese directors, the great irony about Akira Kurosawa's career is that he's been far more popular outside of Japan than in Japan. The son of an army officer, Kurosawa studied art before gravitating to film as a means of supporting himself. He served seven years as an assistant to director Kajiro Yamamoto before he began his own directorial career with Sanshiro Sugata (1943), a film about the 19th century struggle for supremacy between adherents of judo and jujitsu that so impressed the military government, he was prevailed upon to make a sequel (Sanshiro Sugata Part Two).
Following the end of World War II, Kurosawa's career gathered speed with a series of films that cut across all genres, from crime thrillers to period dramas. Among the latter, his Rashomon (1951) became the first postwar Japanese film to find wide favor with Western audiences, and simultaneously introduced leading man Toshiro Mifune to Western viewers. It was Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai (1954), however, that made the largest impact of any of his movies outside of Japan. Although heavily cut for its original release, this three-hour-plus medieval action drama, shot with painstaking attention to both dramatic and period detail, became one of the most popular Japanese films of all time in the West, and every subsequent Kurosawa film has been released in the U.S. in some form, even if many -- most notably The Hidden Fortress (1958) -- were cut down in length.