Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Rhapsody in August’ is a shrine to Nagasaki, whose bombing ended World War II 75 years ago

Posted on August 15, 2020


Kurosawa questioned the American decision to drop the weapon on a city inhabited only by civilians who had nothing to do with the war, who lived far, far away from the military concentrations.

Seventy-five years ago, on August 6 and 9, 1945, the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japan surrendered on August 15 (the actual documents of surrender were signed on September 2) and World War II officially came to an end. But cinema has kept the event alive in cultural memory. There are countless war-themed dramas, as recent as Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (2017) and Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound this year, with Tom Hanks playing an American Navy commander who has to shepherd a supply convoy of ships though waters infested with U-boats. Many of these films are thrill-a-minute affairs, with high physical or ethical or moral stakes.

Akira Kurosawa’s Rhapsody in August (1991) is the rare “World War II film” that plays in very quiet registers . The horrors endured by the local populace — the film is set in the surroundings of Nagasaki — are felt in every frame, but the film itself is as serene as a Zen garden. Talking to the writer Gabriel García Márquez in 1990, Kurosawa said, “I have not filmed shockingly realistic scenes which would prove to be unbearable and yet would not explain in and of themselves the horror of the drama. What I would like to convey is the type of wounds the atomic bomb left in the heart of our people, and how they gradually began to heal.”

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