Kurosawa wasn’t given a directing credit on “Horse,” but he took on a directorial role in more ways than one. In addition to taking control on set, he also co-wrote the film — not to mention the editing process, which Kurosawa wrote was placed “entirely in [his] hands.”
Like many other Japanese films, “Horse” grapples with themes of man and nature and features long shots of large sweeping landscapes. Still, there is quite a bit more camera movement than in the average Japanese film, such as a tracking shot that follows the protagonist Ine through a crowd of horses as she tries to find her foal.
The frequent use of tracking and panning shots in “Horse” suggests Kurosawa’s influence. He preferred more action on screen, while traditional Japanese films opted for more meditative, slow-burning shots. Ine is also more rebellious than a conventional Japanese character. The film featured lots of close-ups and a very people-focused story. These are some of the key differences that Kurosawa notes between his own films and other Japanese cinema.
“[T]he Japanese critics go on and on about how Western I am,” the filmmaker complained in a 1960 interview with Donald Richie. “And mainly just because I do my own cutting and happen to prefer a fast tempo and am really interested in people. That’s the thing about most Japanese films — they don’t really give a damn about people.”
Even though “Horse” wasn’t technically Kurosawa’s film, the freedom he was given on set combined with his incentive to succeed was enough to make him love the process more than any other film he ever made. “You know a film I really enjoyed making?” he confessed, at the height of his career. “‘Horse,’ way back in 1941.”