Facts and Figures
Run time: 134 mins
In Theaters: Friday 20th March 1998
Distributed by: Winstar Cinema
Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Fresh: 13 Rotten: 2
IMDB: 7.5 / 10
Madadayo opens with a Professor (Tatsuo Matsumura) announcing to his class that after 30 years of teaching, he is now choosing to write in retirement. The young sing his praises and previous alumni move the Professor and his wife into a new home. The pair is as hospitable to everyone as if they were children returning from college.
His students visit him constantly, trying to repay all his work with whatever token of comfort they can. Though he is still called Professor and spins new tales, the relations no longer have the condescending quality of talking down to a pupil. The generation lines are blurred more as the youths build a house for the couple when their new home has been destroyed by air raids in the second World War.
With the perfect mix of humility, humor, and acceptance, it's easy to understand the Professor's popularity. He is idolized even when most vulnerable. It is also accepted when his alumni refuse to allow him to wallow in self-pity. As the standard of living decreases, the Professor accepts his pupils as equals that much more, for each chips in to help.
Every year after his retirement, a Maadh Kai (translation: Are you ready?) party is thrown in the Professor's honor. They shout verses back and forth to jokingly confirm to the entire community that he isn't ready to die yet. The tiresome length of these scenes is somewhat abated by the contagious laughter and various toasts as to the nature of the Professor's lessons.
The Professor is never shown in front of a class again, so his pupil's words are the strongest indications of the type of mentor he was. Added to this is that the only time the young peers are shown communicating without the Professor around is when they are talking about him. Matsumura carries the nucleus of the film well, with his subtle sarcasm and silent revelry. The script is also intelligent enough to display the wonderful impact he has had on others' lives without having to bear witness to a school lecture.
As kind and humbling as Madadayo is, the plot becomes monotonous. Each section simply presents something going wrong with the Professor's life, and his students then resolve the issue. One unending series of scenes revolves around the revered older gentleman losing emotional control over a cat that disappears. The beauty of his visions about the missed feline is intoxicating, as are the verses spoken, but the effect wears off due to the long interval.
As with other foreign subtitled films, some of the culture-based jokes won't have the same strength when translated, leaving the viewer at a loss to understand why the characters are laughing. The unique collaboration between age groups is pleasant but it's difficult to accept that these lads risk setting their mentor on the correct emotional track only once.
Impeccably shot by Takao Saito, who was also the cinematographer for Kurosawa's Ran and Dreams, it can be difficult to concentrate on what is being said. From lush gardens to stark devastation after World War II, cultural details seem to flow past the screen.
Similar to Stand and Deliver and other "perfect teacher" movies, Madadayo is a feel-good experience worth a rental, if only because the central character is flawed, and therefore a more interesting study. The humor is contributes unexpectedly poignant satire, which is rarely found in the peers of this genre. However, for a truly brilliant Kurosawa experience, check out his earlier work first.
Cheers for teacher.