Ed note: For the next several weeks, composer and film aficionado Lewis Saul has agreed to supply us with in-depth commentary about the films of Akira Kurosawa, now showing in an extended festival at the Film Forum. Even if you're unable to stop by the Forum, we think Lew's insights will deepen your appreciation of these important movies.Subarashiki Nichiyobi (One Wonderful Sunday) 
PLAYING on January 19th at The Film Forum
This is Kurosawa's sixth film.
For a detailed, frame-by-frame analysis of this film, click here.
This film is quite underrated, in my opinion. The critics suggest that it's warmed-over Capra, or Occupation propaganda (true), or a trifle, a minor film.
In any case, it's a lot of fun (though sometimes depressing)...
"Yuzo (Isao Numasaki, only AK appearance; he died in 1953 [possible suicide]) and his fiancée, Masako (Chieko Nakakita, six AK roles, '44-'49), are a typically poor postwar couple, still dating and not yet married. One Sunday, their only day off each week, they try to enjoy their time together with just ¥35 -- very little money -- between them. They visit a modest (but by their standards, luxurious) house for sale, play stickball with some neighborhood boys, go to the zoo (nearly devoid of animals on account of the war), encounter a war orphan, and go to a coffee shop and fantasize about opening one of their own. They try to buy tickets to a concert of Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, but black market scalpers (prevalent during the postwar era) have bought all the remaining seats, and Yuzo is beaten when he demands they sell him two tickets at the legal price. That evening they go to an abandoned bandshell and pretend to enjoy Schubert's symphony in the ruins. Yuzo drops Masako off at the station, and they
promise to meet again the following Sunday." [Galbraith, p. 87]
- Kurosawa kept himself busy. From his autobiography: "...[M]y responsibilities included not only writing the script for my own film [this script, co-written with Keinosuke Uegusa], but also writing one segment of [another movie] as well as [another] screenplay...As it turned out, I actually accomplished all that I set out to do on this insane schedule, and the three scripts got written on time" [p. 151].
- Richie: "...The opening shot is stunning -- the kind of shot that all directors want but which is extraordinarily difficult to capture. The camera is very close to the edge of the station platform. A train is rushing by at full speed and the image is blurred. Then it begins to slow down, the windows are discernible, then the doors, as they rush past. The train slows down, one by one the windows go by. Finally it stops and there, perfectly framed in a single window, is the girl -- looking out" [p. 44].
- As in Nora inu (Stray Dog) , Kurosawa gives us something to count and keep track of here -- it was bullets in Stray Dog; here it is yen: 35 of them!
- Kurosawa enjoyed filming the bottom of people's legs as they stood waiting for a train to pass. He does it here (as the couple waits for the train to pass, Masako jumping up and down) as he also did in Ichiban utsukushiku (The Most Beautiful)  (January 25th) ...
- The whole baseball scene is very neat: Masako sits down on an empty oil barrel. The ball hits the barrel and she throws it back to the kids. She bemoans their poverty: "People who have big houses should consider us." He looks at her and says, "They won't." Pause. "Why should they?" A very long silence here as they both are sitting on the oil barrels. Again, the boys' baseball arrives at their location. The sound of the boys playing baseball is all we've heard during this long silence. Finally, the boys come and get the ball. Eyeing the glum adults, one of them says, "they look worried." [a great moment!]
- This cheers up Yuzo more than anything since we've first seen him! He joins their game. The next scene is a classic. Hattori orchestrates "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" (with mandolin!) to score this scene! Yuzo steps up to bat, hat and coat still on. He swings and misses a pitch thrown by a child and falls into the dirt. Everyone laughs. He takes off his overcoat and tosses it to Masako. Now he's ready. The pitcher is about to pitch, when another American truck roars through the street/field (whether or not Kurosawa was making any kind of statement with these American "themes" is up to others to debate and decide -- but the movie is depicting 1947 Tokyo and therefore, these reminders tend to reinforce the feeling of the times).
- An Occupation truck (ever-present) has interrupted the game -- now a farmer coming through with his cow, pulling a cart, interrupts the game again. The "Twinkle Twinkle" music has stopped. The farmer slowly leaves the scene and we are left with a simple contrast: loud American truck versus quiet simple Japanese farm life ... finally the game resumes, along with the music. The count is no balls, one strike. The boy throws a pitch. The child umpire rules it a ball. [I must admit, being a "student" of the game -- this scene thrills me! Most movies would have the hero hit the home run or strike out the batter -- but here, Kurosawa, a baseball fan himself, I believe, shows us the natural flow of a game -- even one played on the street by children!] Finally, on the next pitch, he creams the ball. It lands in a bakery across the street. Now, Hattori gets even more outrageous. Still using the mandolin, he scores this scene to the music of Bizet's famous music from "Carmen." The baker is screaming at the boys: "Who did it? Who did it?" and Yuzo is walking forward, still carrying the bat, towards the baker across the street. He squashed some cookies -- that home run cost Yuzo 10 yen [don't forget to count!] ... the Carmen music again. He returns the bat and ball and they go off to eat their cookies. For once, Yuzo is the optimist: "Without the incident, we couldn't eat buns!"
- After nearly getting scammed by the black market café run by Yuzo's old war buddy, they run into the war orphan. Train whistles. Life goes on. They go to the zoo where he tells Masako that they have 23 yen left (Kurosawa is making it interesting for us -- a little algebra problem -- it seems the zoo admission was one yen each!)
- The scene at the kiosk is lovely -- he wants to go make out somewhere; she wants to -- uh -- delay that a bit. Seeing the poster for the Schubert, she reminds him about their first date when they heard that symphony. He reminds her that all the good musicians are now working in the cafés! Her rejoinder is terrific: "Schubert doesn't work in the cafés!"
- The trip to the concert hall is fun: Masako pumps her feet (just like at the train crossing earlier) and urges the train on: "It's so slow! Go faster! Go faster! -- Allegro vivace !"
- They go back to his apartment. There are two long stretches here with no dialogue. The first occurs after she touches his arm: "Hurt?" (he had just been roughed up by the scalpers) ... "It's not the body that hurts." 2:22 ... later, she says, "I'll go home." Yuzo makes a derisive noise. "Love is over?" And then 7:26 ... see by blog entry for what happens in that time ...
- The controversial Peter Pan ending has proven to be pretty much a failure. AK's co-writer, Uegusa, had a slightly different idea for the ending: He suggested that the clapping take place on the soundtrack, as the camera would then pan around the bandshell at other like-minded couples sitting in the shadows. That might not have worked either ...
- I adore the very end of this film. Worth quoting in full:
Yuzo with his hands interlocked, his arms resting on his legs; Masako resting her arms on her purse, chin in her hands; both are pensive. Next to Masako is a box-shaped container which says "TRASH" on it in English letters. A railroad man with a lantern walks by.
Dissolve to a much closer shot with just the couple and the trash can in the frame.
Dissolve to a closer shot with just the couple, from the knees up.
Dissolve to an even closer shot, just heads.
The music stops! A total and complete silence of 12 seconds.
An oboe sounds, ready to tune the orchestra [Kurosawa (and Hattori?)] could have made this much more interesting if they had used an actual "A" -- the note an oboe sounds to tune an orchestra. Instead, we hear an Eb!] -- but is it an oboe? No, it is the whistle of the train coming into the station!
He holds her arm and stands; she follows. They look at each other. He straightens up her overcoat.
"Well, good night," he says.
She says nothing. Close-up on her. A great big smile creeps over her face. She lifts her head:
"See you next Sunday."
She boards the train. He waves goodbye.
After the train is gone, he begins to walk away. He sees a cigarette butt on the ground. He looks at it lovingly. Then he looks in the direction of the departing train. He looks down at the butt. His face and mouth give away his newly found determination. He crushes the butt with his shoe.
The music begins again (the second movement). He seems to be whistling. He stretches and looks out over the [very fake-looking] city set. He turns.
Quasi-dissolve to black. Credits in white letters: "One Wonderful Sunday" "The End" c. 1947 Toho Co., Ltd.
There are no wipes in this film.