1993, Movie, NR, 134 mins


It's fitting that the final film by Akira Kurosawa, the great Japanese director whose films have influenced generations of filmmakers, should be about a beloved university professor and his eternally grateful students. It becomes poignant when you realize that the master is also grateful; Kurosawa's last work is a cinematic thank-you note from a sensei to all those who have felt his profound influence. Tokyo, 1943: After 30 years of teaching, Professor (Tatsuo Matsumura) has decided to retire and devote himself to writing. He and his wife (Kyoko Kagawa) move into a neat new home where Professor's devoted former students come to pay their respects. They propose to honor their mentor with an annual birthday celebration, whose theme will be a question: "Maahda-kai?" ("Are you ready to meet your maker?"); the answer, they trust, will be "Madadayo!" — "Not yet!" But shortly before the first party, history intrudes into Professor's retirement plans: Allied bombers destroy his new home, and the elderly couple take up residence in a tiny gardening shack on a nearby estate. As the students conspire to build Professor a new home, it's Professor's turn to feel gratitude to his students. Although the professor's real name is never used in the film, Kurosawa based his character on Hyakken Uchida, the university educator and novelist. His character — at once curmudgeonly, witty, maudlin and childish — is vividly rendered, but by beginning the film at the end of his teaching career, Kurosawa makes a crucial misstep: He's unable to convincingly convey what it is about Professor that inspired such undying devotion in his students. Kurosawa's farewell film is full of sentiment, tears, toasts and songs, but viewers are left with the hollow feeling of having walked into a retirement banquet for a total stranger. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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