August 19, 2009

After the Rain

1999 film
directed by Takashi Koizumi
written by Akira Kurosawa
based on a short story by Shugoro Yamamoto

When he died in 1998, Akira Kurosawa left behind a legacy of 30 films which, to varying degrees, demonstrate the art of cinema at its finest. Though a hard act to follow, a group of The Master's collaborators - led by Koizumi, Kurosawa's assistant director since 1980 - decided to take one of his last scripts and do their best to bring it to life.

Lanky and dependable musician-turned-actor Akira Terao, a welcome face from Kurosawa's last few films, shines as a bit of an atypical wandering ronin. Ihei Misawa is sweet, polite, and generous to a fault, participating in illegal prize fights not to earn money for himself, but to help others, best demonstrated when he treats a struggling group of peasants to an entire feast just to settle a minor argument. Tagging along is a wife who truly loves him (Yoshiko Miyazaki), but doesn't approve of the way by which he gets his pay.

Stranded at a small inn while the flooded river gradually drains to a crossable depth, he breaks up another senseless fight and catches the eye of the local Lord, Nagai Izuminokami Shigeaki. Shiro Mifune (son of Toshiro) gives Lord Shigeaki his father's endearing roar, but never quite brings the man to life as he offers Ihei a job on the cabinet. Though our hero states there were problems that separated him from past lords, this could be the ticket he's been looking for; a place to settle with his wife, and a way to help people without abusing his sword skills.

I've seen some complaints that this film never really captures the look and feel of a Kurosawa flick, but have to disagree. While, no, the images aren't as sharp or exaggerated as the stuff he did from the 60s on, the scene staging and shot setups are equal to the films Kurosawa was doing before his love affair with a telephoto lens. That change in style also brought with it a bitter cynicism, so I think it's appropriate that a resurgence of the somewhat more optimistic and sentimental view of his earlier work brings with it a return to that style. Besides, with his last two films, especially MADADAYO, this seemed to be the path Kurosawa was interested in returning to.

It's surprising just how perfectly they capture Kurosawa without struggling to slavishly impersonate him. All these veterans just do the best they do with the skills The Master helped them to hone, and it all beautifully comes together. The precise staging and photography. The even, distinctive performances. The firm pace. The use of striking scenery both natural and manmade. The subtle placement of music. It's all so very Kurosawa.

I couldn't think of a better tribute to their mentor and friend.


(internet movie database)

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