Ironic, spare, oblique reminiscences--up through the making of Rashomon (1950)--by the great Japanese filmmaker. Youngest child of a samurai-descended military man, Akira grew up as the family's ""crybaby""--harangued by his daring, brilliant, older brother (who forced Akira to look unflinchingly at the charred carnage after the Great Kanto Earthquake of '23), sent off for a summer of mountain-samurai life by his wise, patient, strict father (who was also a movie buff). ""Somehow I became courageous."" And, as a youth, he dabbled in painting and politics: ""with my head crammed full of art, literature, theater, music and film knowledge, I continued to wander, vainly looking for a place to make use of it."" But after the suicide of his brother--a silent-film narrator who became ""sullied"" as leader of a hopeless narrators strike--a shaken Akira saw a newspaper ad for jobs at the P.C.L. film studio. . . and became an assistant director: ""It was like the wind in a mountain pass blowing across my face. . . the view that opened up before me on the other side revealed a single straight road."" He pays eloquent tribute here to his mentor at P.C.L.: Kajiro Yamamoto, whose ""attitude was that in order to train his assistant directors it was worth sacrificing his own pictures."" There are glimpses of lessons in editing, dubbing, working with actors. And there are notes on Kurosawa's first decade of films as director, his infuriating run-ins with ""mentally deranged"" wartime censors, his love/hate collaborations with old pal Uekusa Keinosuke (""ever since primary school he's been causing me problems""), his overwhelmed first reactions to actor Toshiro Mifune, his own problematic personality (hot temper, obstinacy), plus--a few pages of ""random notes on filmmaking."" Essential reading, of course, for anyone interested in Kurosawa or Japanese films. Otherwise: a curious, elegant, oddly impersonal memoir, alternately passionate and reticent--and only intermittently absorbing.