At the time of his death, Japanese director Akira Kurosawa had completed a screenplay, “After the Rain,” based on a story by Shugoro Yamamoto. The pic has now faithfully been filmed by his assistant, Takashi Koizumi, and Kurosawa buffs the world over will get a charge out of the return to familiar themes and settings. But this mellow samurai film, set at the beginning of the 18th century, lacks the full-on action sequences that might have given it a chance for wider distribution, preferring to tell a gentle, humorous story about a decent man. Theatrical exposure could work in some territories, especially where Kurosawa is esteemed, with video and TV programming certain down the track.
Ihei Misawa, delightfully portrayed by Akira Terao, is a master swordsman whose social skills are wanting. He never manages to stay long in one job, partly because he’s so honest, partly because he’s so good at his true calling. So he’s a ronin, a wandering, masterless samurai who travels the countryside in search of employment, accompanied by his loyal wife (Yoshiko Miyazaki).
At a crowded hotel, the kindly Ihei offers to buy food and drink for everyone; to raise the money he enters a local prizefight, in which he takes on all comers, winner takes all. His victory brings him to the attention of the local lord (Shiro Mifune), who offers him the job of fencing master at his court.
Delighted to be employed again, Ihei reports for duty. But the lord himself challenges Ihei and is ignominiously beaten. Certain he’s blown another job, Ihei returns to the inn, but, on the way, is attacked by a gang of mercenaries. This is the film’s only sword-fight sequence, and it’s handled with all the verve Kurosawa brought to similar scenes in his classics “Yojimbo” and “Sanjuro” — there’s even a nod to latter film when the jugular vein of one of the baddies is cut and blood spurts out spectacularly.
The sword fight is an action highlight, but otherwise the film moves at a somewhat too leisurely pace; surely Kurosawa would have brought a bit more dynamism to the material. The pic is nonetheless visually rich, technically pristine and extremely likable, its charming and charismatic hero delightfully played by Terao.
A couple of other cast members evoke the golden days of Kurosawa. Mifune, eldest son of Toshiro Mifune, plays the lord with much of his father’s charisma and presence, while Tatsuya Nakadai (the bad guy in many Kurosawa films) appears in flashbacks as the hero’s teacher. Miyazaki is lovely as the hero’s supportive wife.
The pic ends on a sweet, contemplative note and is, on the whole, a satisfying footnote to Kurosawa’s career. Jumping the gun by a few months, the copyright date listed onscreen at the end of the credits is 2000.