Akira Kurosawa is a director that will be remembered as one of the best directors ever. He made masterpiece after masterpiece and his films are studied around the world as perfect specimens in introduction to film courses. His heyday was the forties and fifties, but he continued to make films up until 1993. This film was the last film that he ever made. Unfortunately the film speaks to his age more than to his abilities as a master filmmaker.
Madadayo centers around an aging teacher who decides to take up writing for his waning years. Unfortunately his timing is off and he is forced to live in a shack after an air raid took out his house in Tokyo around the time of the Second World War. But he has tons of followers that were his students and every one of them decides to chip in for a new house for him. Every year his birthday celebration is full of these students who salute the aging professor with a saying “Are you ready” and the professor says “Not yet” (which is Madadayo in Japanese). The celebrations are full of revelry and tons of drinking. This teacher lives for this time of the year and as each year passes, the celebrations become more and more elaborate.
The teacher is obviously a stand in for the aging Kurosawa. He wants to be remembered the way that this teacher is being remembered each year. He wants celebrations held in his honor purely because he managed to live one more year. Because of this stand in theme, the celebrations are given the most screen time. The celebrations are simple so it is hard to make anything dramatic out of them. It is purely a devotion ceremony where students eat and drink too much and make silly speeches about how amazing his teacher is. In fact you only see the teacher when it is in relation to his most devoted students. No one wavers in their devotions to the teacher or questions his teachings. They just usually sit in awe of his clever sayings.
This film is not worthy to grace Kurosawa’s filmography, let alone have it be his last film. It is one of the most boring films that I have ever watched. Mainly this is because none of the characters change over the course of the film, except for the aging. Without this change, I am doing nothing but watching extremely long celebrations. It put me to sleep.