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Film Club: One Wonderful Sunday

One Wonderful SundayIt is March 2011, and that means that it is time for us to watch and discuss Kurosawa’s 1947 film One Wonderful Sunday in our Akira Kurosawa Film Club.

One Wonderful Sunday is typically considered one of Kurosawa’s lighter works, with descriptions like “sunny, sentimental comedy” (Richie, Japanese Film, 281), a “saccharine view of postwar society” (Cowie, 58) and “a sweet, uncomplicated story” (Galbraith, 87) popping up in the various discussions of the film. It is often contrasted with the film that preceded it, No Regrets for Our Youth, which is seen as a far braver and heavier film, as well as with the film that followed it, Drunken Angel, which is typically considered the first of Kurosawa’s works as a mature director. In other words, One Wonderful Sunday tends to be left in the shadows of Kurosawa’s other works, yet one may want to ask whether more may lurk in those shadows than is given credit to by descriptions like those of Richie, Cowie and Galbraith quoted above.

One Wonderful Sunday was created at a time when Kurosawa’s film studio Toho was undergoing major labour disputes that resulted in the studio splitting into two. The old Toho where Kurosawa stayed continued to be controlled by the labour unionist, while a new company called Shin-Toho (New Toho) was formed by a splinter group, which included most of the studio’s big name stars. This fact is fairly apparent also in Kurosawa’s film, as the two main actors who play the film’s postwar lovers, Isao Numasaki and Chieko Nakakita, were virtual unknowns. Numasaki was apparently cast because he reminded Kurosawa of his friend Ishiro Honda (Galbraith, 87), while Nakakita had already appeared in small roles in The Most Beautiful and No Regrets for Our Youth. For Numasaki, who died in 1953, this would be the only work with Kurosawa, while Nakakita went on to play the role of the nurse in Drunken Angel and to appear in The Quiet Duel as the wife of Nakada, the man who gave Mifune’s Dr Fujisaki syphilis during the war.

Despite the labour strike atmosphere that surrounded its production, on the surface at least One Wonderful Sunday is a fairly light and straightforwardly bittersweet comedy of the kind that the quotes given earlier suggest. Apparently, there was love in the air at the Toho studios in 1947. During that year, playwright Keinosuke Uekusa, Kurosawa’s childhood friend and co-writer for One Wonderful Sunday, also wrote Once More, a wartime romance which placed third on Kinema Junpo’s 1947 list (One Wonderful Sunday was sixth on the list, but Kurosawa won an award for best director), while Kurosawa himself wrote a section for the Toyoda-Naruse-Yamamoto-Kinugasa directed Four Love Stories (eighth on Kinema Junpo’s list and starring Isao Numasaki in one of the segments). (Hirano, Mr Smith Goes to Tokyo, 222-223)

In fact, due to Kurosawa’s other commitments most of the script for One Wonderful Sunday was Uekusa’s. As Kurosawa was working on the script for Senkichi Taniguchi’s Snow Trail (which would debut a young actor by the name of Toshiro Mifune) as well as on his segment for Four Love Stories, he left Uekusa to write One Wonderful Sunday after first discussing the intended overall structure with him, and only returned to work on the script for its final draft. (Kurosawa, Autobiography, 151)

The film was influenced by Hollywood works such as those by F.W. Murnau, Josef von Sternberg, Henry Koster’s One Hundred Men and a Girl, D. W. Griffith’s Isn’t Life Wonderful, as well as such works by Frank Capra as Lady for a Day, Mr Deeds Goes to Town and It Happened One Night (Galbraith, 90; Richie, 45), the last of which will be our Film Club feature next month. In a nutshell, One Wonderful Sunday is a film about stubbornly trying something until you succeed — a motif that would become very familiar to Kurosawa’s audiences — as well as about dreams, hope and fantasies, both ones that are realistic and those that only function as a sort of escapism from reality itself; again a theme that would be repeated in many of Kurosawa’s later films, most notably in The Lower Depths and Dodesukaden.

The story told by the film was nothing very exotic to its audience. Yoshimoto notes that the kind of Sunday date portrayed in it was altogether typical for postwar couples (Yoshimoto, 135), and Kurosawa’s intention with his relative no-name cast was to portray a perfectly ordinary couple wrestling with perfectly ordinary problems of their day. Technically, the film again shows Kurosawa’s gradual progress as a film maker. Most notable features are Kurosawa’s increased confidence and innovation with his compositions (as discussed in Richie, 45), as well as his experimentation with the possibilities of music and sound effects, not all of which necessarily hit the mark yet.

One Wonderful Sunday is typically considered a flawed or even uninteresting film. Prince considers it one of Kurosawa’s three weakest postwar films (the other two “necessary mediocrities” being The Quiet Duel and Scandal), remarking that these films “have a placid surface that is marked by a general absence of radical formal experimentation”. (Prince, 73-75) In Yoshimoto’s view, “the film as a whole clearly suffers from the discrepancy between Kurosawa’s proclivity for accentuating dramatic tension through the juxtaposition of strong-willed individuals and Uekusa’s more subdued poetic lyricism.” (Yoshimoto 136)

The film’s penultimate scene, the imaginary concert, has attracted the harshest opinions from critics. Richie considers the ending not to work at all, with the scene and Masako’s breaking the fourth wall being “supremely irrelevant to the film” and almost “enough to ruin the entire picture”. (Richie, 46) Yoshimoto, meanwhile, would have preferred Uekusa’s treatment of the scene, where the response to Masako’s speech was not expected from the film’s audience, but was given from hitherto unseen young couples sitting in the darkness of the auditorium benches. Yoshimoto goes on to remark that the fact that Japanese audiences did not react to Masako’s pleas may not have been solely due to the Japanese film viewing audiences being unaccustomed to such things, but rather because “they did not find Yuzo and Masako attractive enough to actively share the fantasy of these fictional characters”. (Yoshimoto, 137)

Personally, I do not fully agree with these assessments, and during this month I hope to be able to flesh out why. It will also be interesting to hear your opinions of the film, including what you think of the concert scene, as I have noticed that surprisingly many of you, like me, consider One Wonderful Sunday among your favourite Kurosawa films. Is that solely for its feel-good factor, or do you see something deeper in its story, something more meaningful that the film is telling us about postwar Japan?

One Wonderful Sunday is also a very special film for us. After two years and ten months, we have finally reached the last item on our Film Club’s first run-through of Kurosawa’s works. We started in May 2008 with Rashomon, jumped around from film to film for a couple of years, and then as Criterion/Eclipse released their new copies of Kurosawa’s early films last summer, began to move through his works chronologically. During these three years, we have had some really great discussions, and we have definitely learnt a lot from each other. It is sad to realise that some people have, due to time or other constraints, dropped out either entirely or nearly completely, but we have also had many new faces joining in during our run. All in all, I am definitely looking forward to our second cycle with its new insights as well as revisits of old discussions!

But that is all in the future. This month belongs to One Wonderful Sunday. Let’s make it one wonderful March, people!


Discussion

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Ugetsu

Thats a great overview of the film, Vili.

I’m one of the fans – after reading the various writings on the film I was expecting to dislike it when I first saw it – but instead I was deeply moved (even if I vaguely resented the rather obvious emotional manipulativeness of the final scenes). I found the final act of the film to be drawn out a bit too long – I think a consistent fault of AK’s early films is that he wasn’t quite rigorous enough in cutting out extraneous material. But overall I found it fascinating and deeply human. I think one of AK’s most underrated skills is his psychological insight into how real people behave (Mellen I think is the only one of the major Kurosawa writers to identify this). I think this film, more than most, shows this clearly (although obviously a lot of credit has to go to the script and actors).

I haven’t watched it in a while, I’ll find time for another look, and post my thoughts later.

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Vili Maunula

Ugetsu: I think a consistent fault of AK’s early films is that he wasn’t quite rigorous enough in cutting out extraneous material

I very much agree, and I think that One Wonderful Sunday has more extra bits of fat on it than most of Kurosawa’s films. I actually think that this was a problem that followed him throughout his career. He was a brilliant editor, but nevertheless many of his films have scenes or material that I, having viewed those films quite a number of times, would be ready to drop out.

Anyway, I will certainly be looking forward to your thoughts on One Wonderful Sunday, as well as any possible responses to my pseudo-essay, which started out as three separate posts and ended up, I think, being more or less what I meant when I said that I’ll be fleshing out my thoughts this month about the qualities of the film!

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lawless

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I don’t see this film as sweet or saccharine. In fact, these remarks make me wonder if I watched the same film!

I was taken aback when I saw the credits because Kurosawa wasn’t credited as a co-writer on the script, which would make this the only film he directed that he didn’t co-write. Perhaps he wasn’t listed as a writer because he wasn’t involved in drafting the script but instead helped with the conception and made the final edits. At any rate, IMDB list him as a co-writer. I’d be interested in any further insight anyone can provide on this. IMO, the film didn’t suffer for his reduced participation in the screenwriting.

It is a more simply constructed and shot film than most of his. Rather than a light romance, I see it as a slice of life film shot through with social realism and philosophical commentary. Parts of it reminded me of Ozu’s I Was Born, But…. The discussion of grim realities and the means of escaping from it through fantasy reminded me of The Lower Depths. While I expected the Western-influenced score, given the setting, I was a little taken aback to hear the melody to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and The Toreador Song from Bizet’s opera Carmen in quick succession.

As for comparisons between this movie and Scandal and The Quiet Duel, I have yet to see the latter, but I think this compares favorably to the former. While the best parts of Scandal (for me, the first half hour or so) are IMO better and more enjoyable than the best of this movie, the worst parts of Scandal are significantly worse than the worst parts of this movie. Mostly I find Scandal very uneven in tone, plot, and believability; One Wonderful Sunday, while less intrinsically interesting, is more consistent.

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Vili Maunula

lawless I was taken aback when I saw the credits because Kurosawa wasn’t credited as a co-writer on the script, which would make this the only film he directed that he didn’t co-write. Perhaps he wasn’t listed as a writer because he wasn’t involved in drafting the script but instead helped with the conception and made the final edits. At any rate, IMDB list him as a co-writer. I’d be interested in any further insight anyone can provide on this. IMO, the film didn’t suffer for his reduced participation in the screenwriting.

I think that Kurosawa’s involvement with the script warrants him being called a co-author, considering that he apparently communicated to Uekusa what he wanted to have in the story, and was then involved in going through the final draft. I think that most of the actual dialogue and settings were Uekusa’s, but the themes and argument were what Kurosawa had in mind for the work. Why he isn’t listed as a co-writer may simply have to do with studio policy or the issue of who should be paid what.

lawless It is a more simply constructed and shot film than most of his.

This may be true, but when you compare it solely to his earlier films, and especially The Most Beautiful and No Regrets for Our Youth (which I think you haven’t seen yet), I would say that there is an increase in complexity, if not with the surface story, at least in cinematic composition, and I would also argue with the meaning(s) behind the work. There are for instance some truly wonderful framing exercises here, as for instance with the scene following the baseball incident, where the two protagonists sit in and move around the concrete tube.

I think It was Richie who wrote that One Wonderful Sunday is his most technically ambiguous film since Sanshiro Sugata, and I would agree with that assessment.

lawless While I expected the Western-influenced score, given the setting, I was a little taken aback to hear the melody to Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and The Toreador Song from Bizet’s opera Carmen in quick succession.

Someone (I forget who, and don’t have my books with me) has argued that Kurosawa selected many of the musical pieces for One Wonderful Sunday more for their titles than their musical qualities. There are some really interesting pieces there, as well as other references to music.

For instance, unless I’m mistaken, “The Apple Song”, which is briefly mentioned in the café fantasy as something that must be played, was a tune that was made fairly popular by a film which came out pretty soon after the war ended. I wonder what the connotation there is for them mentioning the song. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find more information about it or its significance in Japan at the time.

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Garen

I finally saw this at the weekend and really enjoyed it. It was more downbeat than I expected (until the end) but I enjoyed (if that’s the right word) its starkness. The scene that stood out for me was with the little boy who asks for food – what a world-weary child! It looked like he’d been through it all and didn’t much care any more. The money he produced gave it a rather dark undertone.

I enjoyed the imaginary café scene but found the imaginary orchestra scene rather overlong and bit forced. I was surprised at the sexual allusions, but they gave the film some extra weight.

I don’t have a lot to say on it right now but I’ve just read the other discussions on the film here and they’ve really opened my eyes to a lot of interesting aspects I hadn’t considered – so many thanks for that.

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Vili Maunula

Great to hear that you enjoyed the film, Garen! You mentioned the little boy — what did you make of him? As you have probably noticed reading our posts on the film, none of us seems to have a real clue who, what or why he is in the film! A truly puzzling character.

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lawless

Isn’t the little boy in the film to show how hopeless things are when children with mysterious sources of income are reduced to asking strangers for food? But yes, otherwise we couldn’t figure out what he’s supposed to be — rent boy, enterprising black marketeer, or what. He could have stolen the money, too.

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Garen

The strongest connection that came immediately to mind on the appearance of the boy was with Oliver Twist. Perhaps the money was on its way to the coffers of some Fagin-like figure who wouldn’t have been too happy to find out some of the day’s takings had been selfishly spent on rice balls for himself alone – not that the boy cared.

It was his manner that I found slightly disturbing – it looked as though, even at his young age, he had seen it all and not much else could faze him.

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Fred

Last night, I watched One Wonderful Sunday (OWS) for the second time, and enjoyed it even more than when I first saw it several weeks ago. Granted, some scenes appear longish, but to me, that is just part of the language Kurosawa is using to convery his message. The limited resources in 1947 certainly contributed to Kurosawa employing painted backgrounds. I felt reminded of a theater performances (modernist realism), even more so, as OWS is mostly a two person piece. Breaking the 4th wall would also be something possible in the realm of realism theater.

Vili mentioned that a critic claimed that the musical pieces were mostly chosen by their titles; possibly referring to Nishimura Yuichiro (e.g. quoted in [1]). Although I lack the cultural background to disprove Nishimura Yuichiro’s statement, I cannot really agree with him either. Kurosawa’s appreciation of music appears to go much beyond the titles; in his Something like an Autobiography he talks about his early exposure to Western music, a point corroborated in [2], where the author also explains how Kurosawa used music to match the mood or to create a mood, something he very successfully achieved by incorporating Western music into the sound tracks of e.g. Madadayo (Vivaldi’s “L’estro armonico”) and Dreams (Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov‘s “In the Village”).

Back to OWS: The march from Carmen being played when we see Yuzo walking up to the shop owner makes us think that Yuzo, wielding a baseball bat, may suddenly not be polite, humble, and apologetic. Observing that his personality did not change and that he ends up buying the buns smashed by the ball he batted appears comical to me. I simply cannot believe that this is by chance; Kusosawa must have created this effect on purpose, possibly to add some lightness.

In the “let’s pretend this is the Hyacinth Café” scene, Masako states that she would not want to play Ryūkōka in their Café, with the exception of The Apple Song (リンゴの唄), which was a big hit in 1945. You can listen to it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cs3wU8YUpwM
Translated lyrics can be found on pp. 183-4 in deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/63705/1/ntheisen_1.pdf.
Interestingly enough, The Apple Song became famous after it was initially heard in the 1945 movie Soyokaze.

In the swing scene (amazing that the swing also appears in Ikiru!), after singing でたでた月が。。。(deta, deta, tsuki ga…), and before having the idea to walk to the amphitheater, Yuzo begins to whistle. What is he whistling? A personal version of The Apple Song? I don’t know. Any opinions?

While searching for related literature, I just came across a new book [3]. The author does go into some detail about OWS ( http://books.google.de/books?id=K_y88JwibrMC&lpg=PA287&ots=UTRCUckQq9&dq=Michael%20Bourdaghs%20sayonara&pg=PA27#v=onepage&q=Michael%20Bourdaghs%20sayonara&f=false ) and other Kurosawa movies, but does not discuss the topic of the use of music to create comical effects.

1. Mitshuhiro Yoshimoto: “Kurosawa, Film Studies and Japanese Cinema”; 2000
2. Teruyo Nogami: “Waiting on the Weather”; 2001
3. Michael Bourdaghs: Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon: A Geopolitical Prehistory of J-Pop; 2012

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Fred

This seems to be the original version of “The Apple Song”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDieNMkohEY

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Vili Maunula

Thanks Fred! I tried to find more information about the song when we were discussing One Wonderful Sunday, but failed. Good to see the scene it is originally from!

I too find the scene with the baseball bat curiously executed. My own interpretation of the scene, which is buried somewhere here, is that we witness a momentary role-reversal where Yuzo seemingly takes the role of a mafia thug. This ties with my overall interpretation of the film as being about corruption in post-war Japan and how it affected individuals and their freedoms.

Sayonara Amerika, Sayonara Nippon looks like an interesting book. I took a look with Amazon’s preview function, and noticed that at the beginning of the first chapter, it quotes Kazuko Kurosawa mentioning how her father found Japanese pop music “unhealthy”. My own experience, although obviously formed based on more recent output, has been somewhat similar. I actually consider it puzzling how difficult it is for me to find Japanese pop music that I would like. But unlike Kurosawa, I don’t mean this so much as an attack on Japanese pop music, but rather as a comment on how different it seems to be from anything that I listen.

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Fred

Sorry, the link to the translated lyrics gets redirected to this forum. Try this instead.

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Ugetsu

I think the musical choices of Kurosawa is a complex study worthy of a PhD thesis in its own right. I wish I knew enough about music to make sensible comments on the topic, but I don’t. But its pretty clear to me that Kurosawa thought as deeply about the music in his films as he did about any other major element of film making. It wouldn’t surprise me if the music was in his head as the scripts were being written.

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Fred

You are certainly right, Ugetsu.

In his Something like an Autobiography, Kurosawa briefly mentions his/Hayasaka’s idea of film music having to present a counterpoint to the image, which would explain the use of the “March of Toreadors” in the scene where Yuso appraoches the shop owner about the smashed buns.

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Vili Maunula

It could indeed be one of Kurosawa’s counterpoints, although I think that in that case it would be used a little differently from how he tended to use it elsewhere.

If we think about the Cuckoo Waltz scene in Drunken Angel, the counterpoint is there to heighten the underlying emotion by playing very happy music on top of a sad scene. In the March of Toreadors scene, however, there is a less obvious counterpoint being offered, as the meaning of the actions on the screen are less clear, and could also be read as menacing, just like the music.

It’s nevertheless an interesting experiment, and a moment in the film which certainly stands out.

And someone should definitely do that PhD work on sound in Kurosawa.

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Ugetsu

Its a while since I watched the film, but at the time I thought the use of March of the Toreadors was meant to be a bit comic and ironic – we know by now Yuzo isn’t a tough guy so despite his march up there, its not going to end up in a fight.

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cocoskyavitch

Cuckoo Waltz by cute kid: http://youtu.be/PtwyY6hkC7M

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Garen

When I used to run the Chaplin UK website I reproduced a 1952 interview with Charlie Chaplin where he talked about the use of music as counterpoint in his pictures. Chaplin, of course, composed a fair amount of the original music for his own films.

Interviewer: ‘One aspect of a thing I think is fascinating is the fact that you’ve composed the music.’

Chaplin: ‘You see, I use it as a counterpoint, and I learn’t that from the Fred Karno Company. They had splendid music, for instance if they had a squalor surroundings, with a lot of comedy tramps working in it, then you see they would have very beautiful, boudoir music, something of the 18th century, very lush and very grandiose, just purely as satirical and as a counterpoint. And I copied a great deal from Mr. Fred Karno in that direction.’

I hope that’s not too far from the topic of Kurosawa. Chaplin and Kurosawa are my two favourite directors, so I’m always interested in any similarities and themes common to them both.

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Vili Maunula

I would say that Chaplin is always on-topic for any Kurosawa discussion. 🙂

Kurosawa himself pointed at the Russian film The Sharpshooter (or Sniper) as a big influence on his use of the counterpoint. But to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chaplin also taught him a thing or two.

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