Hachi-gatsu no Kyôshikyoku
(Rhapsody in August)
(Akira Kurosawa, 1991)
This is a simple, still, gentle movie. Kurosawa doesn’t try for excess or over complication either narratively or thematically, but he crafts his movie very well, with great composure, and he fills it with powerful, communicative imagery the way he spent basically all of his 50 year career doing.
Japan’s preoccupation with the atomic bomb is a topic Kurosawa had covered at least once before, some three and a half decades back in I Live in Fear, and he revisits it here in more calm fashion, more considered. If that previous effort was the work of a man in his angry prime, this is clearly the work of someone in his twilight years looking back with a peaceful serenity lent him by a long life lived, and a great many experiences passed rather than looking around at the complication of the world in which he lived at the time.
Kurosawa was 35 years old when the bombs were dropped, so he knew this world, he knew how people felt, thought, lived, and he continued to do so for decades afterwards. Knowing this it seems safe to say that he’s put no trace of a lie up on screen, and though his movie seemed to anger many on both sides of the pacific upon its release it seems to me about as decent and fair an attempt to put to rest ghosts that had probably hung around too long.
It’s not a movie of incredibly complex characters (though the adults that make their way into it in the latter stages are shaded with enough grey to suggest Kurosawa has not gone completely soft), nor is it an actors showcase, all the men and women are merely… pawns in a great mans call for peace and brotherhood among man. It is sad that people allowed themselves to get so worked up over it, so politically charged over what the movie was trying to say when at least to me it seems pretty obvious that there’s no great secret or agenda here beyond the simplistic wisdom that comes easily to the man that made the movie, while sadly eluding the character at the heart of it.
As with so many of his late career movies this one again ponders the generation gap, though just as he would go on to do in Madadayo he doesn’t completely condemn either old nor young. Just as with all his career movies the visuals he crafts speak as many words as the characters do, and the one he ends on is one of the finest he ever composed. No matter what, no matter how futile hope may be, whatever meagre resistance can be offered by those that remember will be. As another anniversary of the Fat Man bombing approaches, the idea of forgiving but not forgetting seems a smart one.
The movie also features Richard Gere speaking Japanese. It’s worth watching for that if nothing else.