Madadayo (Not Yet)

Released: 1993
Genre: undetermined
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa
Runtime: 134'
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
MPAA rating: unrated

Cast: Tatsuo Matsumura (Professor Uchida), Kyoko Kagawa (his wife), Hisashi Igawa (Takayama), George Tokoro (Amaki)

In a few words: A retired university professor is visited by his former students.

"It's about something very precious, which has been all but forgotten: The enviable world of warm hearts." --A.K.

When I first came to E2, it was a while after sensei had left. His writing was there for me to read though, including the message following his retirement. The humour and acceptance, and general demeanour in that note reminded me of this film. Maybe it's something characteristically Japanese, an attribute which, I suppose, he and this film share. Maybe it was something else but there's no doubt the visuals I got while reading the note came straight out of Madadayo.

From the creator of The Seven Samurai, Kagemusha and Ran one would expect a lot of action, allegory and insight. Not this time though. Madadayo is not an epic. It's not a lesson. It's a master's farewell, the thirtieth and final work of a filming legend. At the ripe old age of 83 Kurosawa scripts his own retirement, viewed through the life and person of Japanese author and academic Hyakken Uchida. At the time the master had already outlived Uchida by a year. Kurosawa did the editing for this film himself.

The year is 1943. Japan's fortunes in World War II are changing but not its way of life. Professor Uchida, 60 years old (the actual person turned 64 in that year), retires from the university in order to devote himself to writing. He remains in Tokyo despite the increased attacks on the city, saying he might as well watch it burn down. A widely popular and respected teacher, his former students soon begin visiting him, always inspired and intrigued by their teacher's strange humour and wisdom. When Tokyo does burn down, the students pool their resources and present him with a new home into which he moves with only his wife and a book.

In his new home they're joined by a stray cat they name Nora. And each year, on the professor's birthday, the students get together and throw him a party in which they ritually ask: "Mahda-kai? Are you ready?" Uchida ceremonially downs a big tumbler of beer and cries "Madadayo! No, not yet!" meaning his time has not come, amid congratulations and general hilarity. Over time you see the changes in the people and society, the young men's party becoming a western banquet for all, women and children included.

Unlike most societies we live in today, a retired teacher still commands the greatest respect and is honoured with personal devotion and expenditure of time and effort. When the cat goes missing all these now middle-aged businessmen take off and scour the neighbourhood for their beloved teacher's cat as if they were 20 and had nothing to do. The cat is never found but a new cat shows up to take Nora's place and everyone is happy again, with the same unquestioning belief in providence that one might find in a fairy tale.

I said there was no action in this film, and there isn't. It's a work of beautiful simplicity in which the lack of motion speaks for itself. You find out very little about the protagonist, most of the time he's just sitting in his doorway like a stranger would. His tiny house is full of silly signs forbidding things like urinating against the walls and his inventive burglar alarm in which he posts directions for burglars, even designates a special entrance for them, with the reasoning that it leaves them with no sense of anonymity. In fact, early in the film his visiting students are confronted with a "guests unwelcome" sign which they proceed to ignore. Little touches that make this film so completely humble and human.

There are no more allegories, no grand ideas, no struggles. Madadayo is exhilarating in its spartan storyline and monumental in its unashamed sentimentality. With this film the venerable teacher takes a bow and exits. His work is done and over fifty years of making films come to a quiet, uplifting and dignified finale. There is no real sadness, only a lingering sense of accomplishment. Mr. Kurosawa began working on a thirty-first film before ill health forced him into retirement. His work was done.

"I hope that all the people who have seen this picture will leave the theatre feeling refreshed, with broad smiles on their faces." --A.K.

They did, Kurosawa-sensei. And they thank you.