Rhapsody in August

In Japanese with English subtitles.Rated general. Opens Friday, June 12th, at the Royal Centre

During his glory years (1950-1965), Akira Kurosawa was not only one of the world's greatest film-makers, he was also one of its greatest optimists. No matter how horrific the depths plumbed in Rashomon, Ikiru, and a dozen other features, one's faith in human resilience was always reaffirmed by "the Emperor's" movies.

During the past quarter-century, however, advancing age (Kurosawa is now 82) and increasing production difficulties succeeded in darkening the director's vision. Though they won him a legion of new fans, the pessimistic costume dramas Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985) were very different in tone from Red Beard (1965) and The Seven Samurai (1954).

One sensed a desire to redress this balance in Dreams (1990), but the attempt was not entirely successful. Rhapsody in August, Kurosawa's latest picture, is a much more satisfying settling of accounts.

The story could not be more simple. Kane (Sachiko Murase) was widowed by the bomb the Americans dropped on Nagasaki. Now very old, she is quite content to spend the summer quietly with her four young grandchildren, but they are determined to talk her into taking a trip to Hawaii. A long-lost uncle has turned up in America's 50th state, and everyone is keen to visit this rich relative. Kane has her reservations, though, and her quiet reluctance causes the entire family to rethink the significance of the blast that changed all their lives.

Some Americans have criticized Rhapsody in August's politics on this account, but the film is anything but a revisionist defence of Japanese militarism. It is, rather, a bravely na?ve argument in favour of reconciliation and the peaceful life.

Like Eric Rohmer's later films, Rhapsody tries to re-create the sights and sounds of the natural world as realistically as possible. More surprisingly, the film's low camera angles and emphasis on generational conflict can't help but remind us of the ?uvre of Yasujiro Ozu, the Japanese film master whose work has always seemed the most remote from that of Kurosawa.

Rhapsody in August is an old man's film in the best possible sense. Though it stares death straight in the face, it is primarily interested in life.