RHAPSODY IN AUGUST (Hachi-gatsu no kyshikyoku)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa (1991)
Equipped only with a blown out umbrella twisted into the shape of a flower, an old lady, like some ancient Samurai warrior, braves a blinding rainstorm to plea for ending the inhumanity of war. One of his most lyrical and poetic works, Akira Kurosawa's second to last film, Rhapsody in August is about four young Japanese teenagers who stay with their grandmother one summer near Nagasaki and learn about the atomic destruction of their city on August 9, 1945. The film is both a lament for the suffering caused by militarism and an outcry against the world's collective loss of memory.
When the children visit their elderly grandmother, Kan (86-year old Sachiko Murase), she tells them that their grandfather died in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, an event in their country's history that they know very little about. Concerned that the teenagers cannot understand the suffering that had occurred, and the possibility of such an event occurring again, Kan relates personal stories about her experience on that terrible day. Building bridges between generations through her stories, she is able to have the children look past the consumerist values instilled in them by their parents and discover both their countries heritage and the values in life that are most important. As the old woman tells each tale, the children are both curious and moved by their power and mysticism and visit the sites she describes in her stories.
They see the decaying remains of two old trees intertwined forever after a lightning storm. They visit the school yard where their grandfather died and see what is left of a jungle gym, now a pile of melted twisted metal that has become a memorial to those children and adults that suffered and died on that day. The film is haunted by Kan's attempt to cope with the emotional consequences of the bombing, an event that most are unable to remember, but that she is unable to forget. She tells the story of her younger brother, a painter, who could only paint eyes, specifically a large red eye, the "eye of the flash" that signaled the disaster in which 39,000 people were killed and an estimated 75,000 died years after.
The children's parents have gone to visit Kan's brother who emigrated tom Hawaii in 1920 to run a pineapple plantation and married a Caucasian American. One of ten brothers, Sujijiro, now in failing health, wants to see his sister before he dies but she is reluctant to go in spite of the urging of the children who drool over pictures of her brother's affluent surroundings. When the parents return from Hawaii, wishing to establish good relations with the wealthy Hawaiian family, they try to persuade Kan to go. When Clark (Richard Gere), Sujijiro's son, flies to Nagasaki, the parents are sure it is because he wants to end the proposed visit, resenting the implication that America caused his Uncle's death.
When Clark arrives, however, the family discovers the opposite. Although Gere does not look the part of a Japanese-American, his warmth, sincerity, and passion for peace more than compensate and his time in the film is one of the highlights. He first expresses his remorse for his uncle's death in the bombing and visits the shrines in Nagasaki with the four children and their parents. Some critics say the film alludes only to the dropping of the atomic bomb and not to any of the events that preceded it, including the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. However, it is clearly Kurosawa's intention to dramatize the futility of war, not the wrongdoing of one country.
In a tender conversation with Kan, Clark apologizes for what he "should" have said but Kan repeatedly and simply responds, "it's all right", blame it on the war", pointing out that many Americans as well as Japanese died in the fighting. Kan agrees to go to Hawaii but only after joining in a memorial service to the Nagasaki victims, repeating the mantra of Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva (Buddhist deity), "Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha" - "gone, gone, everyone gone to the other shore". One of the loveliest scenes in the film is the sight of a colony of ants climbing the stem of a rose bush, a final epiphany suggesting that amidst the destruction, beauty and hope survive.