Starring: Sachiko Murase, HIsashi Igawa, Richard Gere
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Running Time: 96 mins
Rhapsody In August is a Japanese film about a grandmother who recalls the atomic bombing of Nagasaki 45 years later, with her grandchildren learning about the true devastation it caused for the first time.
This is a brilliant film. Not only is it a wonderfully immersive and intimate portrayal of the lesser-known consequences of war, but it also takes that small story and turns it into a stunning and powerful one from start to finish. With typically elegant direction from Akira Kurosawa, very strong performances and an excellent screenplay, Rhapsody In August is a truly engrossing at every moment.
But first off, a little bit of context. As the second-last film directed by cinematic legend Akira Kurosawa, you would think that this film would have been considered absolute gold dust upon release. In fact, it received a pretty negative reception outside of Japan for the way it portrays the events of the Second World War, with many saying that, whilst it shows the Japanese people as the victims of war, it fails to point out Japan’s own war crimes in the conflict.
For me, that’s a very unfair criticism of the film. While it doesn’t mention Japan’s militarism, it doesn’t go out of its way to deny it. In the end, this movie isn’t about the events of the Second World War, but rather the indisputable fact that the civilians suffered utter devastation, no matter what side they were on.
And that’s why this film is so moving. If you look at this as a pure drama, rather than a historical movie, then it can be a truly powerful and enthralling watch, simply because of the intense human emotion that it brings to light.
Of course, a lot of that is down to Kurosawa’s excellent directing. Although this isn’t anything like his classic samurai epics, the way that he directs such a quiet and slow story with such passion is thrilling to behold. Always leaving time for you to reflect on what the characters are going through in the story with numerous long sequences of quiet and no dialogue, and even a few hauntingly beautiful musical sequences, Kurosawa’s directing style adds so much to the emotional power of this film.
What’s more is that there are a whole host of fantastic performances in this movie. Rhapsody In August isn’t the sort of film to show off with its drama, and that’s why the lead actors’ understated performances work so brilliantly here. From Sachiko Murase as the grandmother haunted by memories of the attack in 1945, to the children who hear about it, and even Richard Gere in an impressive Japanese-language role, the actors all do a very good job here, working together excellently to bring the sense of family and emotion to light even more.
And then there’s the story. As I said, this isn’t a historical drama, but rather a personal drama. It’s about the long-term effects of war even beyond PTSD, where the whole lives of the people who weren’t even directly involved are turned completely upside down. By far most moving and intense in the depiction of the grandmother’s sadness when thinking of the bomb, the film really does make you think about how much the ordinary people suffer when it comes to war on such a big scale, which, rather than being too political, is a truly fascinating angle to follow, and that’s why I’m giving Rhapsody In August an 8.0.