As Tokyo Fox is slowly running short of films ‘set’ in Japan to review, it’s time to start a new series analysing those movies inspired by Japan that have been set in other countries, most commonly the USA. Having been to the new Hachiko statue at the University Of Tokyo recently, the Akita dog was very much on the brain so I guess this Lasse Hallström-directed re-make is the perfect place to start. Continue reading
On August 9th 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and over 40,000 people were instantly killed including (as far as this film story is concerned) the husband and a few siblings of a woman who is now the grandmother of four children. Whether or not Akira Kurosawa made this film or not, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki will never be forgotten but what is perhaps surprising in this film is that there’s no real antagonism towards the Americans and instead it’s a simple reminder to all humanity that the consequences of not respecting one another can be catastrophic.
The Japanese title of this film is ‘Hachi gatsu no kyoshikyoku‘ and interestingly the Hollywood star Richard Gere would go on to star in another Japanese related film starting with the same first word by way of ‘Hachi: A Dog’s Tale‘ (2009) telling the story of the iconic dog. Of course he’s way more famous for his other film roles (‘American Gigolo‘, ‘Pretty Woman‘, ‘An Officer and A Gentleman’ etc) and he does only feature in the final third of this movie but that’s more than enough to merit its inclusion in thisTokyo Fox series! It’s not the first time a Kurosawa movie has been reviewed here though as ‘Kagemusha‘ (1980) was also included for similarly vague reasons relating to the executive producers!
For once this is quite a short Kurosawa film (98 minutes) and it’s also not one about samurai warlords laden with symbolic references to Japanese society. Instead, we see his most humanistic film which is quite moving at times and is a poem against war and the scars it leaves on the minds of those who have suffered.
The main person to have endured agony here is an elderly woman called Kané who is living a peaceful care free life close to nature in the Nagasaki countryside, but the memory of the disaster continues to haunt her and she is forever laden with heavy memories of the past. She is the most intriguing character and a convincing one at that. She displays a range of emotions including suffering, wisdom and forgiveness as embodied by the phrase “blame it on the war” which she continues to repeat throughout the movie. She tries to communicate this message to her four grandchildren who seem interested in their country’s sorrowful history and it is kind of through their eyes, as well as their naive words, that Kurosawa lets us in on the tragedy.
As the memorial day is approaching Kané learns that her only living brother is in Hawaii (having made his fortune in pineapples) and wants to see her before he dies but she is a little reluctant to go despite the grandkids urging her to. Next, the parents return from their very own Hawaii trip and, hoping to get in on the wealth of the Hawaiian family, they try to persuade Kané to go. However, when the son of Kané’s brother (Richard Gere), suddenly arrives in Nagasaki, the parents are sure it’s because he wants to end the proposed visit because they guess he must resent the idea that his own country caused the death of Kané’s husband a.k.a. his uncle.
There is a very nicely filmed scene in the latter part of the film where the four kids and their granny are sitting under a blue moonlight whilst the adults are just obsessed about the wealth of their distant relatives. ‘Rhapsody In August‘ has pretty much no soundtrack other than the natural sounds of wind, water, traffic and people as well as the old organ in the house which one of the older boys plays at opportune moments.
A range of themes are touched on throughout the film such as the effect of the atomic bomb on both nations, the attitudes of the three generations and the effect of American culture on the Japanese. The film moves along at a slow pace and I was a little disappointed that there was no conflict at any time. There are chances aplenty to make Clark (Gere) feel guilt for what his country did but he was let off and spared any real pain or discomfort as everyone bowed their heads, apologised and forgave one another.
The ending is a all a bit weird for me as a violent thunderstorm erupts over the village which Kané believes to be a new bomb fallen on Nagasaki leading her to run desperately for cover chased (eventually) by her entire family in a scene that is a little theatrical but one that has a lasting impact with the broken umbrella coming to represent a flower of peace or something like that!
Tokyo Fox Rating 6/10
This ‘films set in Japan’ series is principally about international movies but I have made an exception for this purely because it was executive produced by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. In reality they did nothing other than persuade 21st century Fox to stump up the cash to help legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa finish the ‘Kagemusha’ (shadow warrior is the translation) the way he wanted. In return they got the international distribution rights for the film.
When I watched this I had no particular strong interest in the contents of the film other than seeing Himeji-jo Castle in anticipation of my trip there back in May this year. I enjoyed the opening and powerful closing parts of the film a lot but have to say that my interest did wane during the middle of this epic three hour film which is as much to do with constantly having to concentrate on the screens subtitles as it is to do with the film itself which does feature some scenes where very little happens for a while.
Kagemusha tells the story of a thief who is saved from being hanged by a warlords brother because he closely resembles the king Shingen so he is trained to fill in as Shingen’s double. However, Shingen receives a mortal wound during a siege and his dying wish is for his death to not be known for at least three years. The shadow warrior eventually not only doubles up as the king but as the full time figurehead which ensures they can avoid invasion and defeat by the other two clans. Despite being a common thief he turns out to be a very competent leader and in some ways endears himself to the viewers by being more humorous, treating his mistresses better, and even getting along with the Lord’s own immediate family.
Personally, I still think this movie is a bit over-rated but it was certainly better than I expected. Ultimately it’s a samurai film but I will remember it for showing the pain of a man caught in the vice of his own life and death and that if you pretend to be something else for long enough you’ll start to believe it and eventually become it.