Something Like an Autobiography

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Something Like an Autobiography (Gama no Abura)
Cover of Akira Kurosawa's Something Like an Autobiography.jpg
Cover of Something Like an Autobiography
AuthorAkira Kurosawa
LanguageJapanese, translated into English
PublisherVintage Books
Publication date
Published in English
Pages240 pp

Something Like an Autobiography (蝦蟇の油, 自伝のようなもの, Gama no abura, Jiden no you na mono) is the memoir of Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa. It was published as a book in 1981 and the English translation by Audie E. Bock appeared the following year.


In 1980, inspired by the memoir of one of his heroes, Jean Renoir, Kurosawa began to publish in serial form his autobiography, entitled Gama no abura (Toad Oil; a traditional Japanese ointment for medical purposes). In English translations, the book's subtitle Something Like an Autobiography (自伝のようなもの, Jiden no you na mono) is normally used instead. The book deals with the period from the director's birth to his winning the Golden Lion for Rashomon from the Venice Film Festival in 1951; the period from 1951 through 1980 is not covered. The title of the book is a reference to a legend according to which, if one places a deformed toad in a box full of mirrors, it will become so afraid of its own reflection that it will begin to sweat, and this sweat allegedly had medicinal properties. Kurosawa compared himself to the toad, nervous about having to contemplate, through the process of writing his life story, his own multiple "reflections."


The book has 54 chapters which traces Kurosawa's early childhood years through his teenage, where he recollects memories of his schooldays, times spent with his elder brother, and the great Great Kantō earthquake and the destruction left in its aftermath.

At the age of 25, shortly after his older brother Heigo committed suicide, Kurosawa responded to an advertisement for recruiting new assistant directors at the film studio Photo Chemical Laboratories, known as P.C.L. (which later became the major studio, Toho) and was subsequently accepted for the position with four others.

During his five years as an assistant director, Kurosawa worked under numerous directors, but by far the most important figure in his development was Kajiro Yamamoto. Of his 24 films as A.D., he worked on 17 under Yamamoto. Yamamoto nurtured Kurosawa's talent, promoting him directly from third assistant director to chief assistant director after a year.[1] Kurosawa's responsibilities increased, and he worked at tasks ranging from stage construction and film development to location scouting, script polishing, rehearsals, lighting, dubbing, editing and second-unit directing.[2] In the last of Kurosawa's films as an assistant director, Horse (Uma, 1941), Kurosawa took over most of the production, as Yamamoto was occupied with the shooting of another film.[3]




  1. ^ Galbraith, pp. 29–30
  2. ^ Goodwin 1994, p. 40
  3. ^ Galbraith, p. 35