In 1972, Kurosawa was suffering through a career slump, as well as a bout of extreme depression (as detailed in his book “Something Like an Autobiography”). His 1970 film “Dodes’ka-ded,” was a bold experiment for Kurosawa, as it was the filmmaker’s first in color. Kurosawa had been encouraged to make it by no one less than Sergei Eisenstein, and he had to mortgage his house in order to pay for it. Sadly, “Dodes’ka-den” was a critical and commercial failure, and Kurosawa was thrust into a creative rut. It wouldn’t be until 1975 that Kurosawa would return with “Dersu Uzala.”
During this span, O’Toole told Interview’s Joan Buck about how he is typically drawn to author-centric scripts, preferring classical texts to potboilers; O’Toole says he’s no trained dog, preferring to be the mouthpiece for a genius writer. O’Toole and Buck, when mentioning Kurosawa, seem to have caught wind of some errant rumor as to Kurosawa’s health; Buck seems to think that Kurosawa had been diagnosed with syphilis. O’Toole shrugs the rumor off, but does mention that Shakespeare himself might have written “Lear” while ill. He says:
“My favorite filmmaker is Kurosawa. To me he’s the perfect blend of the image and the word. Superb. I’d love to do ‘King Lear’ with him … Syphilis did you say? Good Lord how very interesting. What a marvelous death. Perfect for Lear. The great theory is that Shakespeare wrote it when he was poxed to the nines. What’s the line? ‘A convocation of politic worms are active.’ They seem to have found evidence there. The great misanthropic plays, ‘Lear,’ ‘Timon of Athens,’ all have images of pox, dark, devils down below.”
For the record, Kurosawa never had syphilis.