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Akira Kurosawa is one of my very favorite filmmakers. If you search through
my reviews, I have written about a few, The Seven Samurai, High and Low,
Kagemusha, and Dreams. I have seen many more, Rashomon, Ikiru (my personal
favorite), Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Dersu Uzala, and Ran. I have only disliked one,
High and Low, but not one of his films failed to amaze me in some way or
other. My initial opinion, after seeing Rashomon, The Seven Samurai,
Yojimbo, Ran and Kagemusha was that he was an amazing stylist whose films
felt slightly impersonal to me. I strongly disagree with that opinion now (I
expressed it in my review to Kagemusha, which I'm surprised hasn't resulted
in tons of hate mail).
I have just finished watching Kurosawa's second to last film, Rhapsody in August. It is not highly regarded, usually dismissed as a very minor work in a master's portfolio. This I also discovered about my second favorite of his films, Dreams. Well, as far as my opinion, I think people were dead wrong about both of these films.
Rhapsody in August is not a stylistic masterpiece like The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, or Ran. Instead, only second to Ikiru, it is Kurosawa's most humanistic film. I have only seen one film by him (although I've read a lot about him), but I would compare it more to Yasujiro Ozu's work.
This film has a plethora of themes, ranging from the effect of the H-Bomb on both the Japanese and the Americans, the generation gaps between the three generations present (the matriarch of the family feels separate from her middle-aged children, but she relates well to her grandchildren who are interested in their country's sorrowful history), and the effect of American culture on the Japanese of the present generation. It is quite a handful, but everything is handled so subtly that some viewers who don't pick up on it all may easily grow uninterested. In some ways, the film feels very didactic (in a good way). I can imagine this film being showed to younger children, since the four grandchildren, at least at the beginning, are learning about the history of the bomb and Nagazaki and their grandfather's death.
The only weak point of the film is probably the very end, which is difficult to understand. I have a feeling that there was some cross-cultural barrier preventing my understanding of it, so if anyone does get it, please contact me. Anyway, as I perceived it, the film ended kind of randomly. But still, what has come before is too good to get too upset by the lack of closure. It deserves a 10/10.
When I saw this movie, I remembered Louis-Ferdinand Celine's book,
"Journey to the End of the Night", a anti-war book. Reading reviews
about the movie, listening to what people in the US had to say, seeing
the reaction of the American media to this movie, I was sad, simply
sad. This movie is not about Japan, it's not about America, it could
have been anywhere a war had happened.
This movie is a poem against war and the scars it leaves forever deep in the mind of the people who suffered those wars. Those who didn't suffer a war are lucky, and shouldn't be blamed for being this lucky, but they should see movies like this to understand what war is about. The world is never better after war. The first ones to agree to settle things through warfare are the ones who didn't suffer war. There are no winners in a war, just remember.
I'm sorry that all those who felt attacked in their pride as Americans are missing the point of this movie. If your father or your grandfather, or your friend has been to war, just listen to them.
The performance of the grandmother will make you forget you're watching a movie! It is filmed simply and un-pretentiously, though is a very emotional film.
PS: Oh and I'm not Japanese...
A beautiful and deeply moving work,it deals with a taboo subject which is
rarely treated on the screen.The approach is much different from that of
Alain Resnais in "Hiroshima mon amour",and the main reason is that the
director is Japanese.Far from Marguerite Duras' verbal logorrhea,Kurosawa
lets us in the tragedy through children's eyes,and their simple and naive
words.These children,who visit the memorial, only know what the history
books tell:almost nothing.
One of the movie's main subject is building some kind of bridge between two generations(a bridge over troubled water,because the adults are rather unsympathetic characters).Kurosawa's granny is universal,she 's the embodiment of suffering,forgiveness and wisdom."Blame it on the war" she keeps on repeating during the whole movie.And her hard-earned peace of mind ,she tries to communicate it to her four grandsons.She does want to see his brother ,now dying,who emigrated to Hawai and made his fortune in pineapples, a long time ago,and his family.The children's fathers are mean little bourgeois,only interested in these American relatives' dough and luxury mansion with pools,the mothers hateful silly geese.None of them can understand the grandmother any more.
So if there's some hope to be found,it can only lie in the relationship old/young,skipping a whole generation,with the exception of minor Richard Gere character.The four children and their granny sitting under a blue moonlight when the adults are talking social promotion and money is beautifully filmed.But it will not delude for long.The last pictures are a real metaphor:sure the road to follow for the youngsters is the grandmother's one,which does not forget the past ,but it's a rocky road,edged with chasms .
We won't forget the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Akira Kurosawa makes sure of that, but not with a revengeful attitude, rather as a reminder to all humanity that we must care for each other and respect one another because the consequences of not doing so will be paid by all human beings.
I had missed a viewing of this film a few months ago and waited with anticipation for another viewing to take place. I thought the film was quite fascinating when the grandmother told stories about life around the bombing of Nagasaki in WW2. Her moments with her grandchildren were what made the film a pleasure for me. It shows me that no matter where the location is there is still a grandmother telling young children tales of the ole days. The film is at times uneven mainly because it can not decide if it wants to focus on the grandchildren and their matriarch or discuss her half american nephew(Richard Gere) coming to visit. I believe that Kurasawa was using grandma as a casualty of war. She shows in her tales how the war has haunted her. It never leaves. There is one story she tells about her seeing an eye in the sky as the mushroom cloud flashes in the sky as the bomb drops. Other stories tell about a man running off with a shoemaker's wife to a place where two trees committed "double suicide". The film works best when grandma is able to be the center of the story..she was the most intriguing character. I always wanted to hear what she had to say. The film has good moments with Richard Gere,but they are way too short. The ending is a haunting image of what war can do to a person who lives with that tragedy. ****/*****
If this is a "weak" movie by Akira Kurosawa, then I can imagine how
great a "strong" one is. Perhaps it is uncharacteristic of his work. So
what? Must it be a samurai epic to be great? What Samurai epics by
Kurosawa that I have seen are spectacular.
The elements of great drama are all here. An old woman who had lost her husband in the atom bomb explosion at Nagasaki discovers that she has a brother who had emigrated to Hawaii seventy years earlier, had become an American citizen, and had married a woman not of Japanese origin through correspondence that her grandchildren had with their uncle's son (Richard Gere). The old woman has demons with which to contend -- The Bomb, the military defeat which must have seared the esteem of every Japanese of the time, the intrusion of American culture into Japanese life, her children who have become insufferably petty and materialistic... ...Sure, Richard Gere is not one of my favorite actors, but he plays the role of someone 'just visiting' who speaks broken Japanese. That minor role mercifully stretches his limited acting talents little..
The treatment of Nagasaki as two worlds -- one lost, one all-new -- seems to tell me much about the Japanese, at least of the children's generation. Maybe the children can save the memory of the significance of the changes in Japan since 1945, if not the events themselves.
The confusing ending prevents me from giving a "10/10" rating. Not since the Civil War have any Americans have experienced anything remotely similar to the events in this story in America. It's beautifully done, and it is gripping for someone who has no ties to Japan. It reminds me in some respects of "Gone With the Wind" without the objectionable features of racism, catty characters as protagonists, or perverse sentimentality of a rotten social order such as the one that Japan had before 1945. If GWTW gets an "8" from me, then "Rhapsody in August" gets a "9".
A good movie is interesting and easy to understand. This is an absolute treasure of a film. A love letter to Nagasaki. An opportunity to see how deeply the atom bomb affected Japanese culture. An opportunity to see a number of the landmarks of the attack. And edited so wonderfully. Kurosawa always highly prized being able to tell the the story in images alone and understood how composition of shots increases content, and this movie has some very quiet sober shots that hit really really hard. It shows how we can fail to see things that are right under our noses for years and years. How things can happen that you never get over. I loved this movie!!!
Equipped only with a blown out umbrella twisted into the shape of a
flower, an old lady, like some ancient Samurai warrior, braves a
blinding rainstorm to plea for ending the inhumanity of war. One of his
most lyrical and poetic works, Akira Kurosawa's second to last film,
Rhapsody in August is about four young Japanese teenagers who stay with
their grandmother one summer near Nagasaki and learn about the atomic
destruction of their city on August 9, 1945. The film is both a lament
for the suffering caused by militarism and an outcry against the
world's collective loss of memory.
When the children visit their elderly grandmother, Kané (86-year old Sachiko Murase), she tells them that their grandfather died in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, an event in their country's history that they know very little about. Concerned that the teenagers cannot understand the suffering that had occurred, and the possibility of such an event occurring again, Kané relates personal stories about her experience on that terrible day. Building bridges between generations through her stories, she is able to have the children look past the consumerist values instilled in them by their parents and discover both their countries heritage and the values in life that are most important. As the old woman tells each tale, the children are both curious and moved by their power and mysticism and visit the sites she describes in her stories.
They see the decaying remains of two old trees intertwined forever after a lightning storm. They visit the school yard where their grandfather died and see what is left of a jungle gym, now a pile of melted twisted metal that has become a memorial to those children and adults that suffered and died on that day. The film is haunted by Kané's attempt to cope with the emotional consequences of the bombing, an event that most are unable to remember, but that she is unable to forget. She tells the story of her younger brother, a painter, who could only paint eyes, specifically a large red eye, the "eye of the flash" that signaled the disaster in which 39,000 people were killed and an estimated 75,000 died years after.
The children's parents have gone to visit Kané's brother who emigrated tom Hawaii in 1920 to run a pineapple plantation and married a Caucasian American. One of ten brothers, Sujijiro, now in failing health, wants to see his sister before he dies but she is reluctant to go in spite of the urging of the children who drool over pictures of her brother's affluent surroundings. When the parents return from Hawaii, wishing to establish good relations with the wealthy Hawaiian family, they try to persuade Kané to go. When Clark (Richard Gere), Sujijiro's son, flies to Nagasaki, the parents are sure it is because he wants to end the proposed visit, resenting the implication that America caused his Uncle's death.
When Clark arrives, however, the family discovers the opposite. Although Gere does not look the part of a Japanese-American, his warmth, sincerity, and passion for peace more than compensate and his time in the film is one of the highlights. He first expresses his remorse for his uncle's death in the bombing and visits the shrines in Nagasaki with the four children and their parents. Some critics say the film alludes only to the dropping of the atomic bomb and not to any of the events that preceded it, including the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. However, it is clearly Kurosawa's intention to dramatize the futility of war, not the wrongdoing of one country.
In a tender conversation with Kané, Clark apologizes for what he "should" have said but Kané repeatedly and simply responds, "it's all right", blame it on the war", pointing out that many Americans as well as Japanese died in the fighting. Kané agrees to go to Hawaii but only after joining in a memorial service to the Nagasaki victims, repeating the mantra of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (Buddhist deity), "Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha" - "gone, gone, everyone gone to the other shore". One of the loveliest scenes in the film is the sight of a colony of ants climbing the stem of a rose bush, a final epiphany suggesting that amidst the destruction, beauty and hope survive.
Although aware of Akira Kurosawa's standing in the realm of world cinema,I have never been a great fanatic of his films as most of them are Samurai films heavily laden with symbolic references to Japanese society.For me Akira Kurosawa's non Samurai films are better films as they speak of deeper issues like human sentiments.I watched "Rhapsody in August" directed by Akira Kurosawa film with rapt attention.As I was watching it after having watched "Madadayo",I could not help but comparing it both in style as well as content with that film.Both the films were made by Kurosawa when he was at the end of his career and may be for this reason he chose to make humanist stories.Rhapsody in August is a meaningful tale for all people whether they are young or old,American or Japanese.It is a film which shows how important a family is and how wisdom must be passed from the old to the young. Kurosawa has deftly tackled the question of Japan's Atomic bomb tragedy through plain words spoken by an old lady who tells her young grandchildren that with the passage of time all wounds are healed.Rhapsody in August tells us albeit in a non academic manner why it is important to live peacefully thereby avoiding war for the benefit of peaceful coexistence and human society.
I have seen this film many times. This morning I watched it again and was deeply moved, but in a more personal way this time, in watching the scenes first of the children visiting the site of their grandfather's death in Nagasaki, and then later watching the scene where the classmates of the children killed by the Bomb came to make the yearly pilgrimage to the memorial of twisted metal that had once been a playground jungle gym, so that they could replant the flowerbed and repolish the memorial plaque. I hope that the City of New York can create such a living memorial to those who died on September 11, 2001. I would recommend viewing this film again, if you have already seen it, or certainly for the first time, if you have not seen it, as it carries a very powerful message.
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