CHICHIBU, Japan (AP) _ After 20 years, Japan is rediscovering a native son - award-winning film director Akira Kurosawa.

As he talks on the set of his next film, ''Rhapsody in August,'' it is hard to imagine that this smiling, soft-spoken man once slashed his wrists in despair over the box-office failure in Japan of one of his movies.

''I realize that Japanese audiences, compared to American audiences, do not accept the kind of movies I am making, but it is not because I am purposely making films for an American audience. It is because of the level of the audience in Japan,'' Kurosawa said.

Kurosawa was accepted by Japanese studios and audiences from his first film in 1941 until 1970. But since then he has been traveling the world seeking funding for his film projects, despite winning countless international awards, including two Academy Awards.

''I think when I talk about the low level of Japanese audiences, what I really mean is that it is Japanese movie studios that head the list of those incapable of appreciating good cinema,'' he said in an interview.

His Oscar-winning ''Dersu Uzala'' was funded and shot in the Soviet Union, ''Ran'' was made with French money and last year's ''Dreams'' was backed by friend Steven Spielberg.

Then came Kurosawa's honorary Academy Award last March in Hollywood where he was lauded on stage by directors George Lucas and Spielberg for lifetime achievement.

Soon afterward, money flowed from an investment group headed by Shochiku Co. Ltd., one of Japan's major studios, for his 29th movie. ''Rhapsody in August'' is about the effect on one family of the U.S. atom bomb attack on Nagasaki.

So at age 80, Kurosawa has leaped into his next project instead of spending his usual 5-year interlude combing the globe for financing.

''The Academy Award showed very clearly how much the world respects Kurosawa,'' said Toru Okuyama, co-chairman and chief executive officer of Shochiku.

''As a Japanese filmmaker, I was bothered by the fact that he has had to make his films with foreign capital,'' said Okuyama, the producer of ''Rhapsody in August.''

Although a cooling rainstorm rages outside the traditional farmhouse Kurosawa has built for his set in rural Chichibu, inside under hot lights Kurosawa's neon orange T-shirt is stained with sweat. Perspiration runs down his face.

Wearing a Greek fisherman's cap and dark glasses, he won't say much about ''Rhapsody in August.'' He prefers that people see and experience it themselves. But what most appealed to him about the novel on which he based his screenplay was a heartwarming exchange between an old woman and her four grandchildren.

Kurosawa has added a Japanese-American character who comes to Japan to meet his relatives. The part is played by Richard Gere.

Although he tackled nuclear war in the 1955 ''I Live in Fear'' and in one of the vignettes in ''Dreams,'' Kurosawa says he wanted to talk about the atom bomb again on a human level.

''There are so many ways in which we should be closer to Americans and the issue of the atom bomb and nuclear war is one of them. After all, we are all human beings,'' he said.