1991-2000Akira KurosawaDramaIshirô HondaJapan

Akira Kurosawa & Ishirô Honda – Mâdadayo (1993)

How does a director whose work has long been characterized by its vibrancy deal with the subject of aging and death? With extraordinary patience and grace, it turns out. Madadayo is the last film Akira Kurosawa completed before his death in 1998, and it feels like the work of an artist aware that his time was nearing its end. (The fact that the 1993 film is only now receiving a video release in America after an extremely limited theatrical run doesn’t speak well of current attitudes toward elder greats.) The theme of aging recurs throughout Kurosawa’s later efforts, but never as explicitly as here; even the King Lear-based Ran has other concerns. But in Madadayo, Kurosawa directs his attention solely toward the life of a German-language professor (Tatsuo Matsumura) following his wartime retirement at age 60. Beloved by several generations of students, he becomes the subject of an annual birthday celebration. To inaugurate each, he consumes an oversized glass of beer and exclaims “Madadayo!”—the traditional response in a hide-and-seek-style children’s game—which translates as “not yet.” Matsumura’s ability to make the cry sound like both a triumphant denial of death and a gentle plea says much about the depth of his performance, and the film wouldn’t work without an actor of his subtlety. Jocular even when an American air raid destroys his house, he still makes his character’s later descent into melancholy believable. But Kurosawa’s personality is what dominates Madadayo, even if it’s in many respects one of his least characteristic films: As with one of Louis Armstrong’s autumnal solos, he says in one sustained note what once would have taken three. Madadayo’s carefully arranged tableaux at times seem more reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu than Kurosawa, an appropriate and generous touch in a film concerned with paying tribute to past masters. That sense of meditative stillness carries over to the plot itself. Generally one of the most narrative-minded directors, Kurosawa here concentrates more intently on characters, lingering over his party scenes and dedicating a long stretch to a search for a lost cat and its impact on its participants. The latter sequence might be far removed from the climactic manhunt of High And Low, but it’s just as beautifully done, and with even higher emotional stakes. A coda both in its finality and in its deviation from its predecessors, Madadayo is a perfect close to the narrative of Kurosawa’s career, a fond, reluctant farewell to life itself. Keith Phipps@Onion AV Club

2.96GB | 2s 14m | 1024×552 | mkv



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