Monday, February 14, 2011


I've seen a number of films by Akira Kurosawa before, although this is actually the first one that took place during the time it was filmed. It's not as flashy and exciting as some of his other work, thought it was probably the most emotionally moving then he's made that I've seen. It's about a lonely, bored bureaucrat in City Hall who learns that he has terminal stomach cancer and realizes that he's wasted his whole life since his wife died over twenty years earlier. All he has are a position as an unheralded section chief at work and a son who's more interested in his inheritance than him at home, and he goes through a crisis, skipping work and going out to drink. He befriends a couple people who help him try to recapture the spark of life before trying to make the most of the time he has left.

There's a lot of interesting touches in the film. The narrator is one of the most unusually written of the era, talking frankly about the protagonist as a character in a story rather than a person. There's also some inspired sequences like one near the beginning where we see the runaround some women are given when they try to get the government to help on something, being passed from department to department with no one actually considering helping them. The film is probably longer than it needed to be, a common issue I have with some of Kurosawa's work, as the movie sometimes continues to throw in scenes showing the protagonist spending time with people long after the important points those characters bring are made. I was never really bored, I just thought it could have been trimmed a bit.

I think the movie really shines though in the last fifty minutes or so, when the structure shifts and a great deal of time is spent in a single location. For some reason the way they turned the story into a puzzle that some people are trying to decipher while going over the key to the main character's whole story arc seemed to work really well. There's also some pretty brilliant imagery here, most memorably the iconic scene at a swing set in the snow. I'm not sure I'll ever love Kurosawa like some other people due, but this film is a great example of the talent and creativity he had when the rest of the world was still figuring a lot of basic stuff out.

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