RHAPSODY IN AUGUST

(Japanese Title: Hachi-gatsu no kyôshikyoku)
(1991 - Japan)
With Sachiko Murase, Hisashi Igawa, Narumi Kayashima, Tomoko Otakara, Mitsunori Isaki, Toshie Negishi, Hidetaka Yoshioka, Choichiro Kawarazaki, Mieko Suzuki, Richard Gere (Richâdo Gia)
Written and Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Reviewed by JB

Rhapsody in the rain     When reviewing the later works of movie masters who lived to ripe old ages (Chaplin, Hitchcock, Kurosawa) there is an inevitable temptation to either inflate the statue of their later works to match those of the glory years, or conversely, dismiss them offhandedly as minor products of artists past their prime.  In approaching Kurosawa, I have consciously avoided doing either, trying, and I hope succeeding, to approach each film without preconceived notions.  Having said that, I must confess that after 1985's RAN, Kurosawa's work leaves me emotionally uninvolved.

     It seems to be no coincidence that Kurosawa wrote his last three films himself, whereas most if not all of his other works were written by a three man team.  Without his two usual co-writers to kick in, or kick out, ideas, Kurosawa was free to indulge himself, telling his stories exactly the way he wanted to tell them.  However, despite his reputation as a master of action, borne out by films such as SEVEN SAMURAI, YOJIMBO and HIDDEN FORTRESS, Kurosawa's last films, especially RHAPSODY IN AUGUST, are plodding affairs with little action of any kind.  Of course, Kurosawa was in his seventies, and could not be reasonably expectedly to be as energetic and creative in his final years as he was in his prime.  But just as I would never expect Kurosawa to apologize for his later films being what they are, I will not apologize for not appreciating them as much as others might, only explain why they do not move me.

     The main problem with RHAPSODY IN AUGUST, which centers on Kane, an old woman who lost her husband to the atomic bomb blast in Nagasaki, is that characters talk about things that have happened, things that will happen and things that might happen, but little is shown to us.  In other words, Kurosawa tells instead of shows, which goes against the idea of a "moving picture" in both senses of the phrase.  Throughout the film, Kane endlessly describes the day of the blast to her four grandchildren, but unlike parts of RED BEARD and even Kurosawa's next and final film MADADAYO, there are no accompanying flashbacks to illustrate the stories, just talk.  No matter how good the actress is, and Sachiko Murase is marvelous, it is still all dialogue and monologue, shot from mostly uninteresting angles.  It seems strange for such a director, especially since his previous film DREAMS, was all about visually illustrating stories on film. 

     Parts of RHAPSODY IN AUGUST bear resemblance to earlier Kurosawa films.  Like Nakajimi in RECORD OF A LIVING BEING, a confused Kane reacts to lightning as if it were another atomic bomb blast, and like Watanabe of IKIRU, Kane's age and set in her ways manner are contrasted by the liveliness of a younger generation. But like much of the work of ex-Beatles, RHAPSODY IN AUGUST's resemblances to past Kurosawa's work only serve to point out how much more fresh and alive those earlier works were.  And I say this with full knowledge that there was much about RECORD OF A LIVING BEING that I found wanting.  Yet it was a more moving film on a similar subject, and it was made by a director in the midst of one of his, and  cinema's, greatest and longest creative peaks. The four grandchildren may present the same kind of contrast as IKIRU's young office work did to the older bureaucrat, but Kurosawa never writes scenes that give any of the younger actors the room to make a similar impression as Miki Odagiri did in the earlier film.

      Similarly, Kane may be yet another incarnation of Toshiro Mifune's Nakajimi in RECORD OF A LIVING BEING or Takashi Shimura's Watanabe in IKIRU, but she does not have the same impact because she is given little to do but speak.  Occasionally, her speeches themselves may be moving, but she is a static character until the end of the film.  The film's final moments are stirring, if ambiguous, and also contain an image - Kane, with her broken umbrella, struggling to run to Nagasaki during yet another apocalyptic Kurosawa rainstorm - that matches Watanabe on the playground swings for sheer poignancy.  But one moving sequence and one unforgettable image does not make for a moving or unforgettable film. 

      If you are wondering about Richard, Gere, yes, he is in this film and does an adequate job, in Japanese no less, as Kane's American nephew.  2½  - JB 

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