Film Fest concluded this weekend at National Art Gallery
The weeklong Kurosawa Film Fest concluded this weekend at the National Art Gallery (NAG) with the screening of ‘On a Wonderful Sunday’. The film festival was organised by the Japanese Embassy, Japan Foundation and the Pakistan National Council of the Arts (PNCA) to celebrate the 60th anniversary of diplomatic bond between Pakistan and Japan.
The festival, a tribute to legendary filmmaker of Japan Akhira Kurosawa, opened on a serious note with the screening of films showing the effects of war and its devastation. However, the film festival concluded on a lighter mode with screening of sentimental comedies showing post-war scenario of revival and rehabilitation, building hopes over ruins.
Typically considered one of Kurosawa’s lighter works, ‘On a Wonderful Sunday’ with descriptions like “sunny, sentimental comedy”, a “saccharine view of post-war society” and “a sweet, uncomplicated story”, popping up in the various discussions of the film.
The theme moves around Yuzo and Masako, a couple engaged to be married, but they don’t have the money to wed or even to find a place to live together. They meet only on Sundays, presumably due to work, and Kurosawa has us follow them on a particular Sunday when they have only 35 yen to stretch between them. Yuzo is an ex-soldier whose outlook is disproportionately forlorn, while Masako plays the optimistic sprite. They are introduced at a train station. Yuzo is gloomy, he hasn’t had a cigarette for days and he has only 15 yen for their date, while Masako is looking forward to a beautiful Sunday together.
A memorable scene takes place when the couple are looking at an apartment for rent. A man that appears to be the landlord seems totally disinterested in renting the apartment, dividing his attention between the couple and his percolating tea. Then he reveals that he is not the landlord at all, but a former tenant who, having been unable to pay his bills, is being forced to rent apartments for the landlord. He tries to dissuade them by saying it’s a dump, cold in the winter and steamy in the summer. When the landlord pops his head in, this lazy receptionist darts into professional mode and asks them about their credit and what is expected of their tenancy — just as quickly he slouches when the landlord goes back to his compartment. It’s cut very quickly and feels ‘Chaplinesque’ in its development; the couple too finds the situation amusing.
Another scene captures neighbourhood youths playing baseball and Yuzo invites himself into the game, another small moment of unabated joy for him. This small scene is shot with such panache it almost validates the entire film’s running time.
Many film scholars neglect to trace the evolution in Kurosawa’s stylistics; later films are often prefaced by factoids about the difficulties of production or Kurosawa’s biographical circumstances at a given time, and if they do talk about any direct artistic influence on the work it’s always the stylistics or motifs that have been retained in his work from the earlier films. ‘One Wonderful Sunday’ comes out as a really unique for its fluidity. In an illustrious career filled with monumentally revered films, innovative directorial techniques and impressive character archetypes, Kurosawa’s lasting influence on cinema is incalculable.
The second last film ‘Sanshiro Sugata’ portrays late 19th century Japan, where various schools of martial arts are competing to recruit followers and demonstrate their superiority. Sanshiro is a rickshaw driver who’s originally drawn to practice jujitsu but converts over to the new technique of judo. Gifted with athletic prowess and impressive strength, he quickly acquires new fighting skills and proves to be unbeatable in competition. But he’s a brash young man who misuses his talent in street brawls and also causes severe injury to some of his opponents, making him a target for revenge. Even as he strives to tame his inner demons and achieve the mental tranquillity that will make him a true master of judo, he’s pushed and provoked to fight one last showdown with his vicious rival. It’s the timeless set-up, a peaceful warrior beset by a hostile provocateur to the point that he reluctantly takes up the battle in order that goodness and justice may prevail — the heroic narrative, boiled down to its essence and infused into a local historic context for flavour and variety.
Following that last fight sequence, the story wraps up in a brief coda that offers poignant commentary on the times in which it was filmed. It’s hard to imagine a more devastating, catastrophic year in all of Japanese history than 1945, the year ‘Sanshiro Sugata,’ Part Two, was released. By May, when it opened, the biggest cities of the Japanese mainland were relentlessly subjected to American air raids. Three months later, a pair of atomic bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Most of the theatres where the film would have shown were destroyed, and even those that still stood probably suffered from a dearth of customers. So with buildings falling and people dying all around, no one can blame Kurosawa or the Japanese public for the fact that this sequel didn’t quite live up to expectations on the financial side of things. But that final exchange between the vanquished Higaki brothers, moving past their grudge and enjoying the bowl of stew prepared for them by Sanshiro, magnanimous in his victory, as they mumble “we lost” through smiles tinged with chastened relief and resignation, speaks volumes to the future that Kurosawa and the rest of Japan’s war survivors were about to face.