Sunday, March 14, 2010

Rhapsody in August (1991)


A group of children spend their summer vacation with their elderly grandmother (Sachiko Murase), who is still haunted by the death of her husband during World War 2 via the Nagasaki atomic bombing.

"People do anything just to win war. Sooner or later it will destroy us all."

Following Ran it seemed to me that Kurosawa started to try and do some more personal films, towards the end of his life. Still, it's been my experience that these final films are a rather mixed bag. Rhapsody in August is a fine Kurosawa film, grounded by some great performances, but trapped in a rather uneventful narrative. There's a lot to admire. Some beautiful shots, and well set up moments, filled with heart, as Kurosawa tries to honor the bleak past of WW2 Japan. While at the same time Kurosawa's subtle optimism sneaks through, in American characters who must also face the tragedy caused by war.

Still, it's the performances that make Rhapsody in August worth noting. Murase and the fellow children actors play perfectly well off one another, showing great heart towards the source material. They deal with the events the best they can, and it shows up in the film's various scenes. Even the small cameo from Richard Gere as a distant American relative, displays Kurosawa's desire for unity, and apology. There's a solid, if not heartbreaking, atmosphere riddled throughout the tale.

The final moments are perhaps the most telling of how Kurosawa views not only war, but the horrific decisions and actions that come as a result of them. Though to many Rhapsody in August will come off as an attack on Americans, if not their history, I believe it's more of a need for us to accept the past. All too often we seek to apologize, and then forget it ever happened, when instead: how do we learn from the past if we're always trying to forget it? There's a nice message here, and I've always thought this is a perfectly capable entry. It's just not the best you can do if you're looking for a Kurosawa film.

While not that great of a Kurosawa film, Rhapsody in August is hardly boring, with enough heart to make it well worth your time and attention.

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