27

Akira Kurosawa is often credited as the first director to point his camera towards the sun in his film Rashomon (1950). Was this an artistic first, or was there some technical hurdle that Kurosawa was able to bypass?

The sun shining through the forest cover in Rashomon

3
  • 5
    My feeling is that it was a combination of the two. Think of how a celluloid camera operates, the image is (not literally) burnt onto the frame. The same way that non-digital stills cameras work. Since the sun is a HUGE ball of light (don't look directly at it, kids), there's a chance that it could overexpose the resulting frames. That's my thoughts on it, anyway (NOTE: I'M NOT A CAMERAMAN. NEITHER DO I KNOW A LOT ABOUT HOW CELLULOID FILM WORKS) Jun 21 '12 at 7:54
  • Given that celluloid is easily flammable, and that the focal image of the sun can be used to ignite stuff, I could also imagine that the sun was avoided before in fear of igniting the film.
    – celtschk
    Jun 28 '12 at 10:11
  • 3
    Googling around I've found that 1948 a less flammable celluloid film stock acceptable for movie producers was introduced. Given that Rashomon was made just two years later, this supports the hypothesis that the fear of igniting the film might have played a role. Unfortunately I couldn't find any information about what type of film stock Rashomon was filmed on.
    – celtschk
    Jul 1 '12 at 13:53
24
+100

From the article "Lighting and Meaning in Kurosawa's Rashomon" by Asa Fitch (1998):

The effect of pointing the camera right at the sun in this scene and in others is an innovation in cinematography. Until Rashomon was made, pointing the camera directly at the sun was unheard of. It did not occur to anyone that pointing the camera at the sun would do anything more than burn the eyes. Rashomon proved this wrong. "These days it is not uncommon to point the camera directly at the sun, but at the time Rashomon was being made it was still one of the taboos of cinematography." (Autobiography, 185)

Autobiography refers to Akira Kurosawa. Something Like an Autobiography. Trans. Audie Bock. New York: Random House, 1983.

(Upon further research) Here is a fuller quote from Kurosawa:

I had to be sure that this huge gate looked huge to the camera. And I had to figure out how to use the sun itself. This was a major concern because of the decision to use the light and shadows of the forest as the keynote of the whole film. I determined to solve the problem by actually filming the sun. These days it is not uncommon to point the camera directly at the sun, but at the time Rashomon was being made it was still one of the taboos of cinematography. It was even thought that the sun’s rays shining directly into your lens would burn the film in your camera. But my cameraman, Miyagawa Kazuo, boldly defied this convention and created superb images.

5
  • This doesn't say whether it was a artistic first or he overcame a technical obstacle which is what the question wants! Jul 1 '12 at 12:11
  • 7
    It was an artistic first. There was no technical obstacle, it's just no one had done it. It was considered taboo.
    – MJ6
    Jul 1 '12 at 16:28
  • I have added an additional quote to my post that perhaps makes it clearer.
    – MJ6
    Jul 1 '12 at 17:51
  • 3
    "It was even thought that the sun’s rays shining directly into your lens would burn the film in your camera." That's at least a perceived technical obstacle.
    – celtschk
    Jul 1 '12 at 21:29
  • 2
    @celtschk: If the film stops moving with the shutter open, pointing the camera at the sun will likely burn the film. With safety film, the effect would likely be limited to a scorched or melted spot, but nitrate would be another story, posing a real fire hazard to anything nearby.
    – supercat
    Dec 6 '17 at 21:28

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .