One Wonderful Sunday (1947)

Kurosawa followed up on No Regrets for Our Youth with this remarkably bleak comedy about a young couple that simply wants to have a pleasant Sunday together. Yuzo is a disillusioned soldier who is valiantly trying to maintain his dignity and integrity in the ruins of postwar Tokyo. Masako is his relentless chipper girlfriend. They are too poor to live together much less marry. They only have 35 yen between them for the day.

The day goes from one failure to another, each one underlining their yen-less existence. When Yuzo tries to contact an old war chum who owns a dance hall, the management assumes his looking for a handout. When they go to the zoo, they get caught in the rain. When they try to go see a concert, scalpers swoop in and by all the cheap seats, beating Yuzo up when he complains.

Kurosawa has dealt with postwar deprivation in movies like Drunken Angel and Stray Dog, but in neither of those films are as emotionally raw as this one. After Yuzo drives Masako away in an act of misdirected fury, he sits there sullenly in his own apartment, listening to the rain piss down. His desperation is almost unbearable. Kurosawa leaves the shots long in this scene and the camera static. It would have made Andre Bazin swoon.

For the first two-thirds of the film, you could say this is Kurosawa’s most Neorealistic film. Instead of a bicycle, these characters are wandering around a cruel and indifferent city simply looking for some relief from their grinding poverty. A lot of the movie is shot on the streets of Tokyo too, giving Sunday a documentary feel like Rome, Open City and Bicycle Thieves.

Then the last third kicks in. Kurosawa suddenly veers uneasily from gritty Neorealism to a strange mixture of Capraesque whimsy and Peter Pan-style appeals to the audience. Following yet another petty defeat, this time in a coffee shop, Yuzo regroups his shattered spirit and starts looking towards the future with an inkling of hope. When that wisp of a silver lining slips away, Masako turns to the camera and beseeches the audience to clap for our broken hero, shrilly begging “Onegai Shimasu” over and over until your eyes are as dewy as hers. Breaking the fourth wall is a movie like this is really bizarre and jarring. But by doing so Masako, and by extension Kurosawa, is pleading with the postwar audience to think about the future ahead of them and not the yawning abyss below them.

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