Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Keinosuke Uegusa and Akira Kurosawa.
Now why doesn't this movie get more play on TCM?
In the years immediately following WWII, Japan is still pulling itself together amidst bombed out streets and economic recession. A young couple, too poor to get married, meets every Sunday to do whatever they can on as much pocket change as can be spared.
There's a lot of sentiment in this study of the sunken middle class, where full-time workers can't afford to live by themselves, let alone with each other, but it's handled with intelligence and a keen eye for detail. And there's some wonderful contrasts of the increasingly disparate classes, like a scene where the man wants to visit an old friend in a cabaret, only for the staff to mistake him as a beggar, immediately followed by a chance encounter with a filthy, homeless war orphan who, instead of begging for or stealing a rice ball, flips a few bills from a large wad of cash in an offer to buy it.
The couple is played with all the foibles of a real couple - saying the wrong thing, missing a signal, opposing views - mixed with the genuine passion of everything turning gold at the sight of the other's smile. Isao Numasaki shines as Yuzo, a blunt yet fiercely compassionate war veteran who can't help but see signs all around of just how far he's fallen. Masako, played by the delightfully surprising Chieko Nakakita, is hope personified. Everything is a golden opportunity to her, a chance for things to move up. She's the type who sees a hole in her shoe and laughs that it will help the rain water drain out faster.
It's their conflicting (and sometimes reversed) views of the world that drive the story as they struggle to make their day worth while on 35 yen (less than a buck). They go to a zoo that's quickly rained out. They check out multiple housing options; one they can't afford, one they're not desperate enough for. They try to attend a concert, but scalpers pick up all the tickets and raise the price.
There's a melancholy nature to these troubled chapters, but the rich cinematography that captures all the dirty pores and frayed clothes also reveals the twinkling eyes and bright smiles as little elements of whimsy poke through the grime and make everything feel worth while.
I've seen other reviewers compare this to the works of Capra because of its humanity and sentimentality. I highly agree, but there's also some great comparisons to make with the works of Chaplin. Like the way a tiny moment can pick them up out of the darkest depression, or the constant exposure of classism, or the ambiguous ending where their story ends much as it began.
Albeit richer with the experience of another day.