I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

A Tribute to the Master: After the Rain

by Thomas Michalski
March 17, 2013

It’s not uncommon for major directors to pass away leaving projects unfinished or even barely started. There are dramatic examples; Stanley Kubrick never quite gave up on his pet Napoleon epic and Orson Welles practically died still trying to finish Don Quixote. More often than not, though, it’s simply a matter of filmmaking being a planning intensive process, as well as something people do well into advanced age, that creates the conditions for directors to still be looking toward their next venture when the inevitable finally comes. All the same, sometimes those lost opportunities find their way to fruition, or at least some compromise with it, after a filmmaker’s passing. Take 1999’s After the Rain, based on one of several screenplays Akira Kurosawa was developing when a fall confined him to a bed and a stroke took his life a few years later in 1998, and completed as a tribute by his longtime assistant director Takashi Koizumi. It’s not truly a Kurosawa film, nor would you mistake it for such, but it is a fitting tribute to the late cinematic master.

The particulars of the screenplay’s plot, which Kurosawa was basing on a short story by Shûgorô Yamamoto, are a bit more mundane than many of his best remembered films, centering on the drifting rōnin, or masterless samurai, Ihei Misawa, who’s sense of justice and respect for humanity makes him ill-suited to the warrior class. While roaming the countryside with his frustrated wife, Misawa finds himself stranded at an inn when heavy rains make the nearby river impassable. While waiting for the waters to recede, he stumbles into a skirmish with some local goons, which brings him to the attention of the feudal lord of the area, who, impressed by his calm under pressure, seeks to bring Misawa into his employ, until a minor, well-meaning breach of the samurai code of conduct complicates the situation. It’s a small story, a simple story, where, in all honesty, not much really happens (a samurai almost gets a job), but its sensitive exploration of human psychology makes you wonder what it could have been in Kurosawa’s hands.

As it ended up though, under Koizumi’s direction, the film is more than worth watching and a must for Kurosawa enthusiasts. It certainly helps that the whole production feels like a family affair. Beyond Koizumi, who had worked directly under the auteur on his last five films, beginning with 1980’s Kagemusha, Masaru Satô, who scored every one of Kurosawa’s films from 1955 to 1965, returned to do the music. What’s more, his children helped produce the film and one of his grandchildren appears in it, along with several Kurosawa regulars and even Shirô Mifune, son of his classic leading man, Toshiro. Koizumi, who conceived the project as a tribute to his fallen friend, even going so far as to include a few photos of the director at the beginning, doesn’t have Kurosawa’s painterly composition or command of space, but he’s absorbed his affection for lush landscapes and command of tricky moral territory. When the director passed, the script was actually without an ending, but what Koizumi and company came up with to fill that void turns out to be one of the film’s most evocative, hopeful moments.

After the Rain invites any number of comparisons to Kurosawa’s body of work, just the premise of people trapped by rain recalls Rashomon, but it’s better to think of it not as a film “by” Kurosawa, but a film “for” Kurosawa, who never got to meet his end the way he wanted to, on a film set. It’s moving as a tribute, and an excellent translation of what he intended for the film, which, according to his notes, was “a story that, when you have seen it, leaves you feeling cheered”. Another film based on one of Kurosawa’s unproduced scripts, The Sea is Watching, followed it in 2002, directed by his contemporary Kei Kumai, but was significantly less well received than Koizumi’s, which won a slew of awards, but no doubt benefited by released just a year after Kurosawa’s death. There’s always a slightly icky feeling with people finishing great artists work posthumously, especially when it’s so soon after the fact, but you’ve got to think After the Rain, with its obvious respect for Kurosawa’s work and deep understanding of the man himself, would have made the old master proud.

  1. http://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/05/style/05iht-movie.t_0.html

  2. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0181960/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast

  3. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1467922

  4. http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2004/jul/30/1

  5. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/10/01/movies/kurosawa-still-finding-unfamiliar-seas-to-sail.html


Thomas Michalski is a writer and radio host from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. You can keep up with his comings and goings over at http://www.voodooinspector.com/