All Things August: Akira Kurosawa’s “Rhapsody in August”

rhapsody-in-august-main-reviewWhen it comes to watching films of certain eras, genres, sub-genres, or countries, or watching films made by certain directors, cinematographers, studios, or even ones featuring certain actors, let’s face it, we can’t possibly see them all. Now, as diverse as I like to pride myself as being, I too have a number of gaps to fill within my ever ongoing quest to sample as much from the vast smorgasbord of film history as I possibly can before I die. This is why, starting this month (August) I will dedicate the last two weeks of each month to watching as many films as I can to movies that have the name of the month somewhere within their titles. Hopefully, come 12 months from now, this will be one more silly sub-sub-category of films that I can cross off my need-to-watch list.

bscap0001It should come as no surprise, especially to those who already know me, that I consider Akira Kurosawa to be a true master of his craft, dare I even say genius. Well, I’m happy to report that after a first-time viewing of his 1991 film, Rhapsody in August that yep, his legacy as cinematic master still holds true.

The film tells the story of three generations of Japanese coping with the US bombing of Nagasaki 46 years after the bomb was dropped. Though told mostly through the youngest generation’s viewpoint (4 children at their Grandmother’s house for the summer), there is also quite a bit of insight given to those who witnessed the bomb first-hand (the Grandmother) as well as the children’s parents, uncles and aunts.

When I say “quite a bit of insight” I’m not only referring solely to the conversations being had amongst the characters directly relating to the bomb, but also from Kurosawa’s always subtle and sublime way of framing damn near every set piece with as much food for thoughtful reflection as the brain could possibly take before needing to be burped and brought back to Earth by a good swift slap on the noggin. Seriously, there’s a reason why the guy is famous for his incredible framing and breathtaking visual esthetics.

rhapsody_in_august_the_big_eyeThe word “meditative” is often given to describe low-key films such as this one, and I’m often hesitant to label films as being such simply because they have a quiet nature to them. However, the amount of time – during, and especially after – that I spent reflecting on the humanist themes shown in Rhapsody the more I’m okay with calling it a meditative film.

As good as this film is however, perfect it is not. And not because I found it to be “politically inflammatory” – Washington Post, or that I thought the director’s “primary strength is dazzling, kinesthetic action, not ideas” – TV Guide. Quite the contrary. The film confronts and condemns the bombing of an entire city, and it does so while avoiding any anti-American or pro-Japanese sentiment. And from what I could tell, Kurosawa is equally masterful at relaying ideas as he is with any of his “dazzling, kinesthetic action”. A Kurosawa film that isn’t cerebral; that will be the day.

No, my issue with the film – and it’s a small issue, mind you – is the inclusion of Richard Gere. Thankfully the guy only appears during the last quarter of the movie, so being subjected to this highly overrated and just bad actor was limited. What can I say, I’m not a Gere head.

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Categories: Akira Kurosawa, Reviews

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