To celebrate the upcoming release of my book, Akira Kurosawa: A Viewer’s Guide, due out Dec. 15 from Rowman & Littlefield — preorder here! — I’ll be doing capsule reviews all month covering every single Kurosawa film and posting (very) brief excerpts. These will be short impressions and recommendations, nothing more. For a full, detailed analysis of each, grab the book!
One Wonderful Sunday (1947)
Released in 1947, One Wonderful Sunday follows a young couple through post-war Japan as they struggle to enjoy their life despite being destitute. They’re poor, hungry, and desperate, with little brightness ahead of them in the rough years after World War II, but they try their best to make it work.
“People only realize the value of money when they’re broke,” laments one of the characters.
From the book:
As he so often does, Kurosawa does not rely on an easy narrative painting the poor and downtrodden as pure and noble victims. During this period especially, Kurosawa was interested in exploring truths, specifically those about what makes people tick.
Here in One Wonderful Sunday, the downtrodden can simultaneously be figures of pity and repugnance. For example, a later encounter with a boy even poorer and more desperate than Yuzo and Masako puts their own plight into perspective. The boy is caked in dirt, hungry, and has nowhere to live. He accepts food from them eagerly, but when they show him pity he lashes out. He doesn’t want pity, he wants a better life. His gratefulness turns to annoyance, and annoyance turns to entitlement. Perhaps he is justified in this feeling – he has been forgotten by society, after all – and perhaps he is not. The film does not attempt to answer that question. No honest film could.
The movie tosses out realism and turns towards emotional manipulation in its final act, something famed Kurosawa critic Donald Ritchie called “a riot of kitsch.” He’s not wrong – the scene in question is dangerously corny – but it doesn’t ruin what is otherwise a lovely slice of life tale, and even the scene in question is masterfully directed.
Is this one for casual fans? Not really. There are better Kurosawa films focused on social commentary than this one. More avid Kurosawa fans are urged to see it, though, as it helps set the stage for more potent works like Stray Dog, Ikiru, and The Lower Depths.
You can get the movie in this excellent boxed set.