I’ve reached the point where there’s only a few Kurosawas I’ve never seen, and until tonight this was one of those (for what it’s worth, the remainder are The Most Beautiful, The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail, Sanshiro Sugata II, The Quiet Duel, Dodes’kaden and Rhapsody in August), Kurosawa’s very last film. Jeffrey Anderson’s review contemplates this issue of it being his last film, and, more specifically, the fact that it took seven years to be shown in US cinemas, two years after Kurosawa’s death. Last films (or last works of any sort) are always a bit difficult to approach, because they’ve got to stand as some sort of full stop on an artist’s career whether or not they were intended to be, and that issue of intention or otherwise tends to complicate things. In this particular case, it appears that, no, Madadayo wasn’t Kurosawa’s intended last film, as he would write two more screenplays after it and probably only that accident which landed him in a wheelchair in 1995 stopped him from making one or both of them. At that point he’d managed to make three films in three years, an astonishing late-career revival considering the Japanese industry had kind of given up on him since 1965; by the look of it he was indeed not yet ready to stop. The film is about a real-life professor, Hyakken Uchida, told in a series of episodes taken from his own books, and about the loyalty shown him over the years by a group of his students (I kept being reminded of the restaurant scene from Ozu’s Tokyo Chorus). I’ve seen it being criticised for being sentimental and overlong, which isn’t unfair (the business with the cat disappearing, for example, really does go on too long), but I don’t really care; it’s a small film by a man in his 80s, not all of whose films needed to be on the scale of Ran, and I liked it. There was something human and reassuring in it that I think I might’ve been needing today.
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