1991 / Director. Akira Kurosawa.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
Akira Kurosawa was 81 years old and legally blind when he made his second last film RHAPSODY IN AUGUST... mull that over for a moment. He had also just come from directing his most personal film to date, DREAMS. That film was an existential surrealist film that explored some of Kurosawa's deepest fears and inner thoughts. The running theme throughout the film was the effect that the atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on him. These sentiments carried over into RHAPSODY IN AUGUST with the film telling the story of an old woman who recalls the war to her grandchildren. Set in a remote village the old woman is caring for her grandkids for the summer, while their parents are visiting a lost relative in Hawaii. Their curiosity and ignorance of the war inspires questions and the old woman finds herself describing the loss of her husband and the physical effects the Nagasaki bomb had on the friends who survived. She, herself, bears the effects with her thin hair and cranial scarring. The film was heavily criticised upon its release (even from Japanese commentators) for washing over Japan's own dark side of the war. While the film doesn't paint America as the bad guy, it is heavily critical of their part in the war and there is no question that this is a patriotic love letter to Japan's wartime history. When you consider Kurosawa's age at the time and his contribution to cinema, I think he had well and truly earned his right to express his views however he pleased. The film itself is minimalist with most of the story unfolding in conversation at the woman's humble country home. It is far less visual than most of his other work and with a stoical theme lining the narrative, it works well. The dialogue is where the film is let down the most. It is poorly written and appears to be poorly delivered... but of course much of that fault may lie with a bad transcript of subtitles. It is far from Kurosawa's best (very very far) but it is no less significant when you consider his age and failing health at the time. Richard Gere also appears in the film as one of the woman's American nephews and he delivers a generous performance. Most of his lines are in Japanese and apparently he learned them all phonetically. I don't speak Japanese myself but his performance seems to be solid enough in comparison to all of the other players. Imagine being 81 years old and blind... then imagine making a film. Incredible. A true master of his craft to the end!