Saturday, March 20, 2010

Madadayo (1993)


After his retirement from teaching during WW2, Japanese author Hyakken Uchida (Tatsuo Matsumura) is looked after, alongside his wife (Kyoko Kagawa), by the many students whose life he influenced.

Shot much in the same way as Ikiru, Madadayo is a quiet, somber, character study, that examines the life of a single individual. Unlike Ikiru, Madadayo just doesn't have the moral implications and support to back it up. Instead Madadayo relies entirely on your developing interest in the main character, Uchida. Nobody around him gets much of any development, and all the different events encountered are based around him. Luckily for me, I found him passably entertaining and his character intellectually intriguing, which allowed me to absorbed into the world.

The sound performance of Matsumura doesn't hurt. With support from seasoned veteran actors, and some of the final Kurosawa collaborators (loved seeing Kagawa return to the Kurosawa front, still as beautiful as ever). It's these performances, and one-dimensional side characters that help Madadayo be an acceptable farewell film for Kurosawa. Sure, I would have loved for him to go out with a huge bang, alas it's a more quiet, character driven farewell. Perhaps there's a personal underlying passion for the man, or even a personal relationship, there I'm not sure. It would make more sense, but I don't fault it for not.

As a setup the movie is rather simple. We see his life mostly through his birthday parties, in which every year he is asked "not yet?" (Maadha Kai) and the professor responds Madadayo (Not yet) - in relation to is he ready to die yet or not. These parties change over the years, and so do our characters. But they're always intriguing (the first is downright pure entertainment). As well the events that transpire in between are shown, and they reveal a bit of that childlike nature of the professor.

Director-wise nothing about it stands out, and I think that's just right for this kind of film. Kurosawa doesn't try and crazy shots, opting to mostly keep the camera at medium/long shots to fit all the characters in. It gives a sense of personalness to the film. As if you're another guest visiting his house, listening to him speak over dinner. It's a nice decision, and one I fully enjoy. Still I couldn't help but feel it would better serve as a documentary than a film. The professor's life just doesn't have enough going on to carry the run-time.

Madadayo is a nice farewell film for Kurosawa. It's not the masterpiece we all may have wanted, but it's personal nature will stand well for those who wish to see that side of Kurosawa.

Alternate Perspectives:

"In the end this is a movie that I would skip if someone was continually raving to me about the greatness of Kurosawa." - GmanReviews

"I have a soft spot in my heart for teacher stories and this one did find a little home in there." - Movie Moxie

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