One Wonderful Sunday is a contemporary Kurosawa film set against postwar Japan as it was under allied occupation. It follows a young couple having a date on a tight budget of 35 yen between the two of them. Prior to the war, Yuzo (Isao Numasaki) and Masako (Chieko Nakakita) dreamed of opening their own café with affordable drinks and pastries. However, the war changed things.
Following the end of World War II, while Japan transitioned to being under occupation by Allied forces, Kurosawa began exploring the state of his country and its role in the war. With No Regrets for Our Youth, he examined the sociopolitical climate at home as Japan’s militarism changed and the war raged. He accomplished this by drawing inspiration from the 1933 Takigawa Incident, in which a professor at Kyoto University was fired for perceived Marxist teachings. Yet Kurosawa uses his version of the Takigawa Incident as a jumping off point for a greater story he has to tell.
The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (Early Kurosawa 4)
Starring: Denjirô Ôkôchi, Susumu Fujita, Ken’ichi Enomoto, Masayuki, Mori
There’s something to the brevity of Kurosawa’s The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail that gives the film a sense of intimacy. Since it was filmed during WWII, mostly on one set, and with a runtime that doesn’t break an hour, it nearly comes across as a stage play more than a film. This is fitting given it’s an adaptation of a famed story that was popular in Noh and Kabuki theater. The story follows a Lord with his samurai retainers in 12th century Japan sneaking past enemy territory disguised as monks. Along the way, they must convince a brigade of guards that they are in fact monks and not a party for the Lord with a price on his head.
Akira Kurosawa’s first sequel was 1945’s Sanshiro Sugata Part Two, a continuation of his debut film about martial arts and the feud between jiu-jitsu and judo disciplines. Susumu Fujita reprises his role as Sanshiro, who is now a renowned judo expert still under the tutelage of Yano (Denjirô Ôkôchi), but the film’s main drama is slightly different than the first film. Now, Sanshiro experiences the weight of celebrity and has to contend with what the rise of judo has done to the state of Japanese martial arts while new and dangerous enemies emerge to challenge him.
The Most Beautiful is a wartime propaganda film about women working in an optics factory directed by Kurosawa in a pseudo documentary style. He was originally approached to make a film about Zero fighter pilots but, at that stage of the war, it wasn’t feasible to loan out Japanese military assets for the sake of a film shoot. He instead made The Most Beautiful, a film that stands as a unique outlier in his filmography. While it isn’t necessarily good, especially in comparison to the rest of Kurosawa’s work, The Most Beautiful does have some things going for it and is a curious example of an instance where a filmmaker may not fully believe in the material he’s creating.
Akira Kurosawa’s Sanshiro Sugata is an impressive debut for one of cinema’s greatest artists despite being more straightforward and slightly less existential and sub-textual than the majority of his career. The film follows Sanshiro Sugata, a jiu- jitsu pupil who becomes enamored with judo after a fight. He seeks out the maligned master of judo, a discipline seen as a cheap imitation of jiu-jitsu, to learn about the martial art. Along the way, tensions between a jiu-jitsu dojo and the judo master’s dojo rise and Sugata falls in love with the daughter of an aged jiu-jitsu master.
I first came to know Akira Kurosawa’s work when I was a teenager and a burgeoning movie snob. It was 2004, I was 17 years old, and I had just discovered IMDb’s now defunct message boards. Desperate to watch anything and everything, I perused the IMDb Top 250 regularly and would lurk on the message boards of movies I was interested in.