One Wonderful Sunday (Akira Kurosawa / Japan, 1947):
(Subarashiki Nichiyobi)

The basic premise (35 yen stretched over the course of a Sunday date) gives Akira Kurosawa the form for a study of pluckiness in postwar Tokyo, a curious mixture of the striking and the woeful. The young couple gets together weekly: Isao Numasaki is a former soldier prone to glumness ("Just wised up, that's all"), Chieko Nakakita hangs on to cheerfulness to keep despair at bay and cries uncontrollably when that fails. Despite their affection, the date is cracked with tension. He: "You're living in a dream world!" She: "You had dreams... before the war!" Awkward silence. Their itinerary includes a kiddy baseball game, a trip to the zoo for social metaphors amid caged animals, and a visit to a posh cabaret that yields to a seedy basement of black-marketeers and "hostesses"; the Westernized score (riffs on Bizet and "The ABC Song," among others) provides a further layer of commentary. Each stab at happiness hits a brick wall, the characters rush to a classical music concert (their allegro sprint is emulated by a series of rapid tracking shots) only for scalpers to beat them to the box-office. The prematurely drained railroad urchin gives bathos a confrontational face (remembered in Pixote, surely), but Kurosawa finds slivers of humor in the extremes of desperation -- when the old apartment superintendent drones on about a particularly ghastly flat ("It's cold, so you're bond to have rheumatism all winter long. It's terrible in the summer, too"), Nakakita can barely stifle a giggle. Borzage, Chaplin and Capra are the models, all of whom would have probably considered cutting the scene with Numasaki "conducting" Schubert in a deserted amphitheatre while the weepy fiancée begs the other side of the camera to clap for the moody Tinkerbell. (Kurosawa stages it as an appeal to our faith, and a challenge to our stomachs.) Amid the rubble, a single affirmation becomes a declaration of hope: "See you next Sunday." With Atsushi Watanabe. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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