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page added: 2/19/10
updated 3/19/10

The Films of Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa - Review Index

Akira Kurosawa - Page Nine

Madadayo (AK100)

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Madadayo (AK100)
1993 (2009) - Tokuma Shoten/Toho (Criterion)
Released on DVD on December 8th, 2009 in the AK 100 set.

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B+/None Available

"Aogeba totoshi waga shi no on
Oshie no niwa ni mo hayaikutose
Omoeba itotoshi kono toshitsuki
Ima koso wakareme iza saraba"

"We stand in awe of our teacher's kind favor
How quickly the years have passed in this Garden of Learning
How quickly they've passed, the months and the years
And now we say... farewell"

from Aogeba Totoshi - a traditional Japanese graduation song (and an apt farewell to Sensei Kurosawa)

The title to Kurosawa's 30th and final film, Madadayo, translates to "Not Yet" in English, but it's also a Japanese children's game mixing Hide and Seek and Marco Polo. This is important to note given that the main character of the film, Professor Uehida (played in tour de force fashion by Tatsuo Matsumura), uses both meanings to full effect throughout this beautiful and life-affirming film.

Based on the events in the life of famed Japanese author Hyakken Uchida (author of Disk of Sarasate, which served as the basis of Seijun Suzuki's Zigeunerweisen), Madadayo follows Uehida from his retirement as a professor of German at the Tokyo Imperial University up to his 77th birthday celebration. In between, Uehida enjoys the company of some of his students, who worship the ground he walks on and do everything in their power to keep him and his doting wife comfortable. Uehida has his share of hardships regardless, including losing his home to air raids during WWII and the loss of a beloved pet. But through it all, his faithful friends never leave his side, forming a society around him that celebrates his birthday each year. It's there that beer and sake are drunk, speeches are given and the question "Mou ii kai?" ("Are you ready?") is asked by all in attendance. Uehida's response is always the same, always in a sing-song, child-like manner: "Mada dayo!" ("Not yet!").

Madadayo is not an epic, nor is it paced like one. It's simply a series of episodes from one man's life; a man who meant a great deal to a great many. Uehida is charming; happy in one moment, sad in another. Supportive of his friends, but even more supported by them. He is flawed. He is perfect. He is a human being, and it's easy to see why Kurosawa chose to focus a film on him. Given its subject, it’s ironic that this would be Kurosawa's last film as a director. It's also quite fitting. For those looking to "cap off" their own Kurosawa film festivals, Madadayo does the job perfectly... pure gold indeed.

This AK100 edition of the film far surpasses the original Wellspring release in quality. In fact, it may actually be the single best reason to pick up this box set. The DVD's anamorphic widescreen picture captures the 1.85:1 image perfectly. Colors are rich and bold, and image detail is luscious. Sound is a solid Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 track that works perfectly for the film. Sadly, there are no extras. It would have been a wonderful treat if Criterion had snuck some in on this last disc in the AK100 box, but we suspect Madadayo will receive more elaborate special edition treatment from Criterion in the future.

Todd Doogan

Madadayo (Wellspring)

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Madadayo (Wellspring)
1993 (2001) - Tokuma Shoten/Toho (Wellspring)
Released on DVD on March 13th, 2001.

Film Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): D-/C/D-

Madadayo was originally released on DVD in 2001 by Wellspring (note that the version included in Wellspring's exclusive box set is identical to this disc). Unfortunately, the film - which is widescreen - is presented in non-anamorphic (letterboxed only) video, which dramatically reduces the resolution and image detail. What's worse, it's not a particularly a good transfer. Contrast is okay, but colors are muddy and there's an excessive degree of edge-enhancement used to compensate for the lack of detail. This transfer was likely done for analog VHS video, and while it's watchable, there's just no getting around the lack of quality. The audio at least fares somewhat better. It's presented in the original Japanese in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, with English subtitles.

This disc does include a couple of extras, but not much. The first is a letterboxed video release trailer for the film that appears to be assembled from the U.S. theatrical trailer. The second is a small gallery of Kurosawa's painted storyboards for Madadayo. Finally, you get filmographies for Kurosawa and stars Tatsuo Matsumura, Kyoko Kagawa and Hisashi Igawa.

Ultimately, while the chance to see the storyboard images is nice, the AK100 DVD version is absolutely superior to this Wellspring disc in video quality, and that's really what matters most. For those of you who can't afford the AK100 box set, our guess is that a new standalone DVD version of Madadayo (with an anamorphic transfer) will be released in the months ahead - perhaps even from Criterion. In the meantime, if you CAN avoid this disc, we recommend doing so.

Bill Hunt, Editor

Kurosawa DVD Collection: Limited Editon (Wellspring/Amazon)

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Kurosawa DVD Collection: Limited Editon
1985/1993 (2002) - Wellspring (Amazon)
Released on DVD on September 23rd, 2002 (Amazon exclusive - 5,000 numbered sets).

Overall Set Rating: B-
Disc Ratings: NA (see individual disc reviews)

In 2002, Wellspring partnered with to create an exclusive Kurosawa DVD Collection box set. This set was only available directly from the online retailer in a numbered limited edition of just 5,000 sets. The oversized box contained three DVDs: the Ran: Masterworks Edition (which was available exclusively in this set until early 2003) and Wellspring's existing DVDs of Madadayo and the Kurosawa documentary. All three are identical to the standalone releases, with the exception of new matching disc labels.

In addition to the DVDs, the box also included some interesting and exclusive swag items. These began with a small liner notes booklet for the films, featuring a short and uncredited essay on Kurosawa and his work.

The next was a set of four glossy postcards, featuring Kurosawa's own storyboard paintings - two from Ran and two from Madadayo. Accompanying these was a certificate of authenticity for the set. Finally, there was a miniature shoji-style screen (presented much like the fold-out playing surface for a board game) featuring stylized imagery from Ran, and a small, rolled reproduction of the U.S. theatrical release poster for Ran. Here's what it all looked like...

Amazon Kurosawa DVD Collection

By today's standards, the Kurosawa DVD Collection isn't the most impressive box set you could imagine, but at the time of its release it was special indeed. The box is now long out of print, but in terms of the disc-based content, the Kurosawa documentary is really the only thing that's worth having that isn't already available elsewhere in better quality. Used copies of the documentary can be found fairly easily online.

Bill Hunt, Editor

Kurosawa (Wellspring - Documentary)

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Kurosawa (Wellspring)
2001 (2002) - BBC Films/NHK (Wellspring)
Released on DVD on April 23rd, 2002.

Program Rating: B+
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): C-/C/B-

In 2001, just a few years after the director's death, the BBC and NHK collaborated to produce an in-depth, English-language documentary on Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. Directed by Adam Low and narrated by actor Sam Shepard, the film features interviews with many of Kurosawa's surviving collaborators, as well as his son and daughter, and other well-known filmmakers and critics (like Clint Eastwood, Stephen Prince, Donald Richie, etc) who knew or appreciated him. Using extensive film clips, behind-the-scenes footage and photos, archived interviews with Kurosawa and excerpts from his autobiography (read by actor Paul Scofield), the film offers a start-to-finish and unflinching look at his life and his work.

The documentary covers many topics about Kurosawa of which fans may not be aware, including his own samurai family heritage, the early childhood death of his older brother, his memories of starting his career during World War II, his friendship with actor (and frequent collaborator) Toshirô Mifune, his struggles to continue making films later in his career, Japanese and world reaction to his films, etc. Several of his former cast and crew members (including long-time script supervisor, Teruyo Nogami) revisit his old filming locations and talk about what it was like to work with him. We even get a glimpse inside his private retreat near Mt. Fuji. If you love Kurosawa's films, the documentary places them beautifully into the larger context of the artist himself.

Kurosawa has been released on DVD twice, both by Wellspring. The first version was this stand-alone DVD, and the second was the exact same disc as included in Wellspring's Amazon-exclusive Kurosawa DVD Collection box set, both released in 2002. Unfortunately, while the film was produced in a widescreen aspect ratio, the DVD is non-anamorphic. So the image quality could certainly be better, though it's serviceable and remains quite watchable. Audio is English Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, and there are English subs for those film and interview clips that are in Japanese. The disc also has some decent extras, including 90 minutes of additional (unused) interview clips, hidden Easter eggs (check the disc's various sub menus for many of Kurosawa's Suntory Whisky commercials) and a Kurosawa filmography.

Sadly, both versions of Kurosawa are now out of print, though it's still relatively easy to find used copies of the stand-alone disc online. This is a documentary that we'd REALLY like to see get a new anamorphic widescreen re-release on DVD (perhaps as a special feature on a future Criterion Kurosawa disc), as it's revealing and more than worthy viewing for fans of Kurosawa. One suggestion however: Don't watch it until after you've seen a majority of the director's films, as there are minor spoilers for a few of them. Kurosawa is fascinating and highly recommended.

Bill Hunt, Editor

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