One Wonderful Sunday (1947)

30 11 2008

Despite some of the most visually stunning touches in Kurosawa’s career, this, unfortunately, doesn’t quite live up to its potential. For a story that sounds so plotless and natural, Kurosawa sure does go a long way to make it feel confined to some sort of theatrical structure. The concept of two poverty-stricken lovers running around and trying to make the most of the day is wonderful on paper, but when realized, at least by Kurosawa, it comes off as one of his most awkward films. Truth be told, maybe he couldn’t take control of something devoid of any dramatic turns. It feels like Kurosawa trying to be Hiroshi Shimizu, but anyone who watches at least one Shimizu film knows that his sensibility is nearly impossible to emulate.

In some odd way, this actually seems like some sort of reaction against Shimizu’s work, though if it is than it is also a great misinterpretation of his work. Masako, played by the wonderful Chieko Nakakita (who would go on to work frequently with Naruse), represents the relentlessly optimistic side of the young couple’s relationship. Her husband to be, Yuzo, is sort of the opposite. Early on, the couples dynamic creates more than a few funny sequences, one of the most notable being the one where they inspect an apartment far outside of their price range. Their dialogue does begin to sound like Kurosawa’s mouthpieces, but they do prompt plenty of thinking – “How can one dream in such a world?” wonders Yuzo, which Masako responds with “In such a world, one has to have dreams.” Simple, not particularly insightful, but it does address how the public should respond to a postwar world.

Kurosawa does brilliantly shift his film’s tone from ponderous and downbeat to happy and hopeful rather quickly, but he does so in a very believable manner. Masako is stumped on how to cheer Yuzo up, but then they walk right in the middle of a baseball game taking place on the streets. Yuzo is excited, even if others observe that he’s a bit too old. Somehow, I think that is exactly the point. It is sort of implied that Yuzo sees baseball as a sign of his childhood and he attempts to escape the harsh reality of adult life by participating in a game inhabited exclusively by youngsters.

There seems to be a similar pattern (downbeat then hopeful) echoing through the first hour and a half of the film, but it takes a very crude turn to the end in which Masako talks directly to the audience and Yuzo imagines orchestrating Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony. The sequence before it, featuring the couple mentally designing their imaginary cafe exists on a similar ground. It is the Schubert sequence, which seems fairly long, that marks the film “shark jumping” moment, when a well-intended social drama tries to become some sort of experimental and grand statement about humanity. I understand why Kurosawa wanted to physically involve the audience, but even the overwhelming sense of earnestness can’t cancel out the slightly gimmicky feel. Kurosawa’s heart (and head) is in the right place here, but it just doesn’t gel that well with his aesthetic.

Where is the Friend’s Home? (1987)

30 11 2008

This is, by a fairly decent margin, the most impressive Abbas Kiarostami film I’ve seen. I probably need to revisit Close-Up and Taste of Cherry sometime in the future, but I still don’t remember them being as simple and straight-forward as this film is. I mean this in a positive way, of course. Kiarostami takes a really setup: a little boy must return a notebook back to its owner, one of his classmates. If said classmate does not do his homework in this notebook, then he will be expelled. It’s the sort of thing that could have easily been dramatic and silly in the hands of someone less capable, but in Kiarostami’s, it is a gorgeous examination of life in rural Iran.

The protagonist, a quiet wide-eyed eight year named Ahmed, is an ideal student. The boy who sits next to him, Mohamed, isn’t. The teacher makes a mockery of him when he forgets to do his homework in a notebook for the third time, something that is seen as unacceptable. On their way out, Ahmed accidentally takes Mohamed’s notebook and doesn’t realize it until school has long since concluded. Ahmed skillfully dodges his own responsibilities at home to look for his friend’s home.

Kiarostami’s influences seem very obvious here, but it’s not really a problem. The whole way in which the drama unfolds is very Antonioni-esque. In other words, it’s just a little boy wandering around town stumbling into some very poignant and moving moments. The music, which is actually really great, definitely seems to be a nod to Satyajit Ray, especially considering that it is put up against scenes like a little boy chasing a donkey.

Oddly enough, the scene towards the end where Ahmed is befriended by an elderly man sort of reminds me of Mike Leigh’s Naked, specifically the scene in which Johnny has that philosophical conversation with the secuirty guard. The conversation has a much different tone here, it definitely relies on the same innocence found in Linda Manz character in Days of Heaven (a performance which inadvertently shaped the way younger children are depicted) but it has the same sort of dynamic as Leigh’s film. It’s fitting, though, since both Leigh and Kiarostami tend to be seen as “socially-concious” directors but both offer much more.