Director: Akira Kurosawa

Released: 1952

Featured Actors: Takashi Shimura, Nobou Kaneko, Shin’ichi Himori

Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto





General Information

  • 13th film completed in 1952
  • Allied censorship ended midway through film’s production, allowing for critical comments about the allied reforms
  • Based on Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych

Stomach Cancer

  • Prominent disease in post-war Japan (formally TB)
  • Emblematic of Japanese people
  • Japanese custom supported not telling the patient of terminal diseases – believing the knowledge would further deteriorate patient’s condition
  • Terminal diseased patients often, due to custom, did not reveal their condition thinking it would unnecessarily burden friends & family
  • Cancer a concern due to fallout from atomic bomb & atomic testing – it permeated their food systems, sanitation, etc.
  • Put side by side the stomach (Japan) to the heart (USA)
    • The heart in US culture is the seat of the true self, emotions, and so forth
    • The stomach (hara) is the seat of one’s character, feelings, thoughts, emotions, & mind == therefore the true self
    • Whereas a leading sickness in US is heart disease, in Japan it is stomach cancer
    • Stomach disease would indicate wrong living, wrong values, wrong feelings, etc. – disease is a sign of disturbance with one’s being & social order
    • Kanji Watanabe can alter his hara, but not the cancer

Narrative Structure

  • Avoids Melodrama (so prevalent in US films of the period)
  • No sentiment or false sentiment – emotionless, for the most part
  • Creates distance through narration, time jumps, & changes in perspective
  • Crisis defines character
  • Leaps over sections of time / dislocated
  • First portion is personal & psychological == Second portion (wake) is multi-perspective views of society (told with the aid of flashbacks)
  • Kanji Watanabe represents Kurosawa’s values – inspiring the audience but not the society he lived in

Themes & Motifs

  • Note Kanji Watanabe’s HAT as a motif
  • Toy Rabbit as Motif