Rhapsody in August (1991)

Such a small film, this, and yet what a stink it apparently created at the time. We’re in late Kurosawa territory again, his first fully Japanese production in 21 years; this is him after he’s finished with big epics in the 80s and also got the somewhat experimental Dreams out of his system, back to telling smaller stories like he hadn’t really done in a very long time. Rhapsody revolves around an old grandmother, Kane, and her four grandkids who are spending their summer vacation with her; a long-lost brother who she’s frankly forgotten about has suddenly been found still living in Hawaii, and the kids’ parents have been sent there to meet this fellow. The family want the old lady and the grandkids to come and visit them in Hawaii, but trouble erupts when a telegram gets sent and their American nephew decides t visit his relatives at home instead. Kane lives near Nagasaki, and the atomic bomb of 1945 obviously hangs heavy over the story; apparently this is what critics objected to 20 years ago when it came out, with the film being accused of anti-Americanism (apparently nuking  two cities full of civilians isn’t a war crime when the civilians aren’t English-speaking white folks), and even some Japanese critics claimed it should’ve been more honest about Japan’s own atrocities in the conflict. None of which is, I think, the point of this film, which isn’t about apportioning blame for anything; it’s literally a family film, about a family that got split up long before the war even happened and that got damaged by it. Not a million miles away from Ozu in some ways, although rather more heavy-handed, and the ultimate lack of conflict combined with the not particularly fast pace means there’s not a great deal of narrative drive. And I’m still unsure of “Richado Gia” as the American nephew, can’t help but feel someone more Eurasian-looking should’ve got that part. I liked it, though, basically it’s sweet stuff.

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