Winstar/1992/134/WS 1.85

     Akira Kurosawa's swan song should have been a better a movie. It's small in scope, visually claustrophobic, and the plot is often annoying. How could the master director spend almost half an hour on the subject of a lost cat. Did I miss something?

The sensei and his students. ©Winstar

      Madadayo opens in Tokyo 1943 as a revered professor announces his retirement to his students after thirty years in front of classrooms. Former students are totally devoted to their professor and fawn on his every word as if he were Socrates or Shakespeare. There's a strange absence of acknowledgement of the war, though bomb damage impacts on the script. I wondered why all these young men were not serving somewhere on the war front. But, that's the least of the problems of Madadayo, which translates to "not yet." At every turn, the professor's students jump to attention at his beck and call. They don't even seem to have lives of their own. Their obsequious laughter responds to every supposedly witty remark uttered by the professor.
    There are elements of charm in depicting the relationships of professor to his students, but it wears thin after a while and the lost cat is simply the last straw. The center piece of Madadayo is the annual birthday celebration for the professor organized by his former students. The affair becomes more ritualized through the years.
    The acting seems right out of a soap opera. Subtlety is not the order of the day in Madadayo. The script subverts any potential from these cardboard characters. After two hours spent with Madadayo, you don't get to know much about the characters.
   Kurosawa's legendary cinematic compositions are seldom in evidence. The camera is static and uninteresting. Only the beautiful closing transcends everything that came before it in a reminder of the visual power of Kurosawa's Dreams.
    Sadly, the transfer of Madadayo is even more disappointing than the film. It's simply ugly. Edge enhancement permeates every aspect of the transfer. It's very prominent. There's even faint ghosting and color smear on many outdoor scenes is awful. Lots of soft images despite the pervasive enhancement. Jitter is evident in a number of scenes. Flesh tones are pasty, unappealing. There's little vitality in evidence in this DVD. The sound is pedestrian and there are several scenes in which an annoying hum creeps in to accompany the lousy picture. At least the yellow English subtitles are easy to read and the simple story easy to follow. The best thing about the DVD is a small presentation of several beautiful Kurosawa drawn story boards. The vitality is absent fromt he movie.




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