Saturday, April 21, 2007

Rhapsody in August (Hachigatsu no kyōshikyoku)

Remembrance of a horror

Image Courtesy:

Akira Kurosawa’s movies in the later stages of his careers were starkly darker than his earlier ones. In Rhapsody in August he tires to tackle the Nagasaki atom bomb dropping and its impact on three different generations. It shows us how three different Japanese generations and an American views the bombing and its effect on human life.

The movie is mainly said from the viewpoint of four children who come to visit their grandmother. Their parents had gone to visit a long lost brother of the grandmother. The grandmother’s lost sibling is in his death bed now and wants to meet his last surviving blood relative before he dies. However the grandmother’s memory has become increasingly selective with age and she does not even remember the name of such a brother. So she sends her son and daughter (the children’s parents) to visit them instead. She does this so that the grandchildren are left in her care and she could spend time with them during their summer vacations.

Image Courtesy:

The children, to begin with, are thoroughly modern and westernized. They walk around in their jeans and t-shirts with American logos. They are in awe of their rich American cousins and wishes to spend their vacation at Hawaii. But a trip to the nearby Nagasaki changes their attitude to America. They realize that their grandfather had died in the bombing while working at a local school. They also realize how tough it must have been for their grandmother to lead life from then on as a single mother of two. The children grow increasingly resentful of America. They begin to feel and understand an event which they had known only through text books and as numbers.

The grandmother relives her past by way telling stories of it to her grandchildren. Through her stories, which are sometimes factual and sometimes mythical, she introduces the children to the beauty of the land and the sufferings of people in the aftermath of the bombing. She says that she was resentful towards America for a long time but has now taken the attitude that the real blame should go to War and not to the country. She is of the opinion that countries will do anything to win wars.

Image Courtesy:

The grandmother’s children harbor no ill wills whatsoever to the Americans. They are in fact happy to have found a rich relative back in Hawaii. They scheme and plan to get the grandmother to go to the US so that they can take up jobs at their cousin’s pineapple factory. They seem to neither care nor have any great feeling for the tragedy and have almost forgotten it.

The grandmother ultimately relents to visiting Hawaii when her brother and his son Clark (half Japanese and half Caucasian) request her repeatedly to visit them. She however says that she will visit only after the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, her husband’s death anniversary as well. This takes the American family by surprise as they had not known that the grandmother’s husband had died in the bombing. The grandmother’s own children feel that their mother had squandered a golden opportunity for them. They felt that the American do not like to reminded of the event.

Image Courtesy:

Clark however turns out to be polite and apologetic about the bombing. He manages to strike a bond with the grandmother and even participates in the memorial service on the day of the anniversary. His stay is cut short when the news of his father’s death reaches. The grandmother too remembers her brother at that time and is devastated that she did not visit him earlier. This has an effect on her mental stability and a thunderstorm soon afterwards have her reliving the horrors of that fateful day when the atom bomb was dropped in Nagasaki.

Kurosawa tries to show the impact of the bomb on the lives of the people who survived it. Some of the scenes are poignant and moving. The sequences were the children learn more about the bombing, where the survivors pay tribute to their classmates, the utter destruction symbolized by the twisted metal of a jungle gym in the school yard all stay with you even after you have watched the movie.

Image Courtesy:

But that is not to say that the movie is a masterpiece. I found the movie really tough to watch as the drama was a bit too low key and the pace a bit too slow for my liking. There is a definite bias in Kurosawa’s interpretation of the event. There is a definite finger pointing towards the Americans as being responsible for dropping the bomb while conveniently forgetting the events leading up to it. One can argue that the old lady does not harbor any resentment towards the Americans. But even those moments are made to be less profound than the accusatory moments.

I am one of those who strongly believe that the master’s later works pales in comparison with his earlier ones. Rhapsody in August however still shows glimpses of Kurosawa’s mastery over the medium. Nobody can capture beauty or take a shot that is imprinted in your mind for the rest of your life as Kurosawa can. It just proves that a genius and his work will always be remembered just like major events. No matter how good or bad they are.

Reviews of Akira Kurosawa's Major works

Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon (1950)

Ikiru (1952)

Seven Samurai (1954)

Hidden Fortress (1958)

Yojimbo (1961)

High And Low (1963)

Red Beard (1965)

Kagemusha (1980)

Ran (1985)

Rhapsody In August (1991)


Ang said...

thank you for the comments on my blog,
I'm finding yours thoroughly enjoyable.

Profesor M said...

thanks for first comment:)

Texas said...

Fin blogg!
Jag gillar den verkligen.
Biby Cletus.

Cyber warrior "el ojo de la blogosfera" said...

Hello Kerala,

Thanks for your visit on my blog.

Saludos desde España.

tobymarx said...

My first Kurosawa film experience was "Seven Samurai", back in the early '70s. It still ranks as one of my favorite films, along with "Yojimbo" and "Rashomon". Toshiro Mifune was unparalleled as an actor.

I enjoyed reading your reviews of "Rhapsody in August" and "The Hidden Fortress". After you left a comment on my blog (thank you!), I had to see what you were up to, and was pleasantly surprised to find your articles about Kurosawa's films. I will definitely be returning to your site to read more.

All the best,

P.S. - Read my post "Herein Abides Ganesh". Though I no longer live in that hotel, I am still friends with the manager and his wife and pay regular visits to them. This past winter they returned to India to attend the wedding of one of their nieces. When they came back to America, they brought me a wonderful little figurine of Ganesh, which now has a place of honor on top of my bookshelf.

Val-André Mutran  said...

Thanks by its visit to the By the Plateau Aisles. Your blog is excellent. Congratulations.

ZZ said...

Interesting! I just make a link from my blog to yours.

Daniel Moscugat said...

Thank you for your commentaries in my blog, Biby. You can visit me when you want.
The literature and the poetry are the life.
A greeting.

Canichu, el espía del bar said...

thanks for read my blog. I'm reading your blog and now I want "rhapsody in August" in my DVD, your comment about the movie is interesting

lovething said...

From Akira Kurosawa's movies I prefer Ran...I also think that the music of Toru Takemitsu for that movie was one of his best works. :)

Faizah said...

Wow..your blog is really good and fascinating..good job biby cletus!Is that yr real name or commercial name?hehe..anyway..tq for visiting flowerpower7879..hope to see u again next time ok..

diego dí ego said...

thanks for the comment. your blog it's pretty interesting, i've never seen a blog like yours to be honest... I'll make a list of favorites and I'll put you there for sure, keep on the good work.

If you want any cd to be uploaded to my blog just let me know and I'll get it.