A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
Akira Kurosawa is in his early 80s now, and there are those who think he is losing his touch, that the vision that made him one of the greatest of directors is fading at last. In his 70s he gave us late masterpieces like "Ran," but his "Dreams" (1990) was not well-received, and "Rhapsody in August" was considered a disappointment when it premiered at Cannes in May, 1991. It is not one of his great films, but shows him thoughtfully trying to come to peace with the central event of his times.
The movie takes place during one summer in the life of a very old woman (Sachiko Murase) whose husband was killed by the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Her children and grandchildren have come to visit her, and there are reports from the deathbed of her brother, who immigrated to Hawaii many years before, prospered, and took an American wife and American citizenship. Now he is mortally ill, and while the old woman decides whether to answer his call for a last meeting, a reconciliation, he dies.
Not long after, her nephew (Richard Gere), the man's son, comes to Japan to visit. He is half Japanese, half Caucasian, and around him the subject of her husband's death is discussed only gingerly; perhaps he would not like to be reminded that the bomb was dropped by Americans. He speaks Japanese, is polite and interested, and eventually learns the story of his uncle's death. And there is a scene beyond all words in which the old lady and another woman friend, equally old, gather to remember their dead. There is no dialogue; they need no speech for their memories.
Kurosawa has always been a director of great images, and in his old age he has permitted himself more fanciful, less realistic ones. There is a great eye which opens in the sky in this movie, and which symbolizes, I suppose, the light that flowered in the sky when the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. There is a rose, engulfed by ants, which may have something to do with those who fled from the devastation of the bomb. There is the twisted jungle gym of a school playground, left the way it looked after the heat of the bomb melted it into a grotesque sculpture. And there is the image of the old woman, walking in wind and rain, her umbrella defiantly offered against the elements.