Ame agaru (1999)
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Written by Akira Kurosawa and directed by Takashi Koizumi after Kurosawa's death. This is a breathtaking reflection of Kurosawa's early and later storytelling sensabilities. But it is a very complex film, one that upon initial viewing may defy the viewers expectations of the samurai genre and seem simplistic, overly long, or as one reviewer described: unexciting.
This film reminds me very much of Red Beard, another Kurosawa story that while set in feudal Japan is not necessarily a samurai film.
Almost like a play at times, Ame Agaru takes it's time and is all the better for it. There are some excellent sword fights and formal duels in the film but they are not the focus of the film. There's a bit of time depicting the main character silently practicing his sword work in the woods that might bore a number of viewers.
Is this a Kurosawa film? Yes, in that I could easily see him directing this story. There are a number of similarities to his last film, Madadayo. No, in that the direction here is sort of mundane. Kurosawa's distinctive eye is missing. There's a TV movie quality that's sort of unusual for a film like this. However, the actors and the story really do carry this film over and while it's not a masterpiece, it's not a waste of time either if you know what you are getting into.
It is such a lovely movie in its simplicity. There are no evil schemes and plots. No subplots within subplots with twist and suspense building. No massive production with a cast of thousands. No nasty characters that you hate. It is just a sweet simple story telling about an unemployed man (ronin) and his wife.
This movie made me smile as especially the wives. The wife of the Samurai, Tayo, is incredibly sweet. Same with the wife of the lord. Both play the "character" of the Asian wife...quietly supportive while leading the man to understanding with words of wisdom.
Great minimalistic acting. A Samurai Feel Good movie.
I was reluctant to see "Ame agaru" due to a wrong expectation and feeling. I believed the director Takashi Koizumi was an opportunist, using the name of Akira Kurosawa to promote himself in his career. How wrong I was! Indeed, "Ame agaru" is a very beautiful and sensitive feel-good movie and a great homage of Takashi Koizumi to his master Akira Kurosawa. The direction is simply perfect; the performances are stunning, with the actors and actresses showing passion, heart and soul in their interpretations, highlighting Akira Terao and Yoshiko Miyazaki; the locations are simple but beautiful; and the lovely story is wonderful, with a magnificent, optimistic and very human message in the end. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "Depois da Chuva" ("After the Rain")
While Ihei Misawa is a samurai, he's also a middle-aged man in a career crisis. What does a samurai do with himself when the wars have ended? He looks for a new career where his skills are still useful. His crisis is just like that of a laid-off worker of today, except for the line of work itself. The local lord, played by Shiro Mifune, also has problems that are still faced by modern people -- many of the people who work for him are incompetent or tiresome. The movie does a great job of telling a story that applies to a modern audience, even though it's set 300 years in the past.
Interestingly, although the movie has conflict, it has no major villain characters. (The rivals are all bit parts.) All of the central characters are basically good people. That's a refreshing outlook.
The movie was written by Akira Kurosawa before he died, and directed by his assistant director of 28 years, Takashi Koizumi, with most of the same regular crew. One of the supporting actors is Shiro Mifune, son of Toshirô Mifune, who starred in many of Kurosawa's movies. So in many ways it's a Kurosawa movie, and there's a substantial dedication to Kurosawa at the beginning of the film.
I saw the movie at a Seattle International Film Festival screening, and director appeared in person. Through an interpreter, he said that Kurosawa's son had persuaded him to direct the movie, with the support of many others who had worked with Kurosawa. He also said that he "asked and forced" the Akira Terao to star.
The photography is incredible, the acting excellent, and the main characters are true to life. Even the ending - uncertain - leaves the viewer to provide his own ending
THAT'S how movies should be made!