Quentin Tarantino's movies are known for their blood and guts, but that's thanks to a samurai movie blooper. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Perhaps the most memorable scene in Inglourious Basterds — Quentin Tarantino’s pseudo-historical World War II film about an American Special Forces team on the hunt for Hitler — is a close-quarters gunfight that takes place in the basement of a Nazi-filled saloon. Replete with geysers of blood, eviscerating one-liners, and a ludicrously high body count, it is just the kind of scene Tarantino has built his career on.
Tarantino often credits the legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa with pioneering many of the film techniques that define his own directing style. Of all the things Tarantino has borrowed from the late director, the most obvious is his excessive use of fake blood. To truly appreciate that little morsel of film trivia, it helps to know that blood-splattered fight scenes weren’t a thing until Kurosawa arrived on the scene. And they might never have become a thing had it not been for an accident involving a rubber hose that changed Kurosawa’s entire approach to depicting on-screen violence.
Inglorious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino's seventh feature film. Screen grab from Inglorious Basterds.
Kurosawa, who died in 1998, is still the undisputed king of samurai movies. With movies such as Yojimbo, Hidden Fortress, and Rashomon, he not only transformed the samurai subgenre, but also the art of filmmaking as a whole. His innovative techniques, such as his use of axial cuts (a technique in which the camera makes a series of cuts toward or away from the subject, giving the illusion of continuity), helped distinguish him from other respected filmmakers of the post-war era. His influence was global. Hollywood titans such as Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma, and Martin Scorsese are all devotees of Kurosawa and his methods. So is George Lucas, which is why echoes of Kurosawa’s work can be seen throughout the Star Wars trilogy, in everything from the costumes to the famous wipe transitions between scenes.
Given his monumental success, it should come as no surprise that Kurosawa was a stickler for details. For example, while making Seven Samurai (which, like Yojimbo and Rashomon, was remade into a popular Western), Kurosawa tasked his prop department with finding a way to make a river flow in the opposite direction (and they did). For his film Red Beard, Kurosawa had a production assistant pour 1,000 cups of tea into the same cup in order to give it the perfect well-worn aesthetic. Yet, despite all of his fastidiousness, there was at least one occasion when a scene didn’t unfold exactly how Kurosawa planned. And it turned out to be one of his most influential.
Toshiro Mifune, left, starred in nearly all of Akira Kurosawa's samurai films. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The scene is the climactic final battle of Sanjuro in which two katana-wielding samurai fight to the death. The script called for the film’s titular hero to dispatch his opponent with a single clean slash across the abdomen that would draw just enough blood to let the audience know that the blow was fatal.
On the day of filming, however, the prop department accidentally overpressurized the rubber hose that was supposed to dribble fake blood down the front of the actor’s tunic. The mistake resulted in an eruption of blood that covered both actors, who didn’t realize it was a mistake and carried on with the scene.
When Kurosawa finally called cut, the prop department expected to get an earful. But Kurosawa made no complaints. In fact, he thought the extra blood only made the scene better and decided to keep it. Audiences seemed to enjoy the blood, too, and Kurosawa realized that he was onto something.
From then on, outlandish amounts of blood was a hallmark of his films and became a style embraced by filmmakers spanning countries, generations, and genres. Indeed, had it not been for Kurosawa and that malfunctioning hose, movie lovers would never have had the pleasure of watching Jamie Foxx’s Django lay waste to members of the KKK, or Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton incinerate some of the Manson family with a flamethrower, or Uma Thurman’s Black Mamba hack her way through an army of assassins.
Mac Caltrider is a senior staff writer for Coffee or Die Magazine. He served in the US Marine Corps and is a former police officer. Caltrider earned his bachelor’s degree in history and now reads anything he can get his hands on. He is also the creator of Pipes & Pages, a site intended to increase readership among enlisted troops. Caltrider spends most of his time reading, writing, and waging a one-man war against premature hair loss.
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