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Brian D

Madadayo

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In our upcoming Growing Older top 25...time to finally have a thread of its own!

This is what I wrote on Letterboxd about the film:

Students, you love your professor. That is so very clear throughout this film. You love him so much you stay by his side and follow him even into his old age. That is quite remarkable. Still, your devotion to him has hints of idolatry. Is he really “pure gold”? Is this not a bit too much? Especially since it is not always clear what you are learning from him. Are you learning to drink deep into the night to somehow show the world that you are alive? What are you learning from him? I wish I understood his impact on you, and I wish it was clearer why his impact was golden.

Students, I do appreciate the example of your friendship with your professor. This kind of friendship with the elderly is very rarely found on film, let alone in real life. I am grateful to have been able to taste some of this over the 2 hours of this film. I see your camaraderie with your sensai in many ways here, and it is lovingly detailed.

Students, I love most of all the way you stand fast with your professor as his age overwhelms his emotions. The passage with the “lost one” is the most resonant one in the film, not only because it is a deep check on the notion that your professor is perfect but also because it shows so much about how you are faithful friends. Even yet, would you lay down your life for your friend? My own Master once said, “Greater love has no one than this…” Students, would you do this for your professor?

I am not a filmmaker yet I am one of Professor Kurosawa’s students. I have learned not a little about life, films, and storytelling as I’ve watched him dream out loud on screen. This film is many times more special because it is the Professor’s final film. The ending is somehow the perfect final scene for the final film of Kurosawa’s career. It has a rare finality, a period at the end of Kurosawa’s lifelong film novel.

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Films about teachers are numerous, and given my profession, of personal and professional interest. 

There are many things to appreciate about Maadadayo, but the thing that I appreciate is that it seems to understand (or at least explore) the *longitudinal* effects of being in a profession that calls for you to be both separate from your students and yet still heavily invested in them. 

There are, of course, arguments to be made about whether this is necessary in teaching (I feel it is, but I know some people who are more emotionally enmeshed in their students--or at least some of them--than I think is healthy), but teaching is a weird sort of thing in that it is, at its core, relational, and yet defines success as enabling the cessation or termination of the relationship. 

Relationships can morph into something else, but, paradoxically, the students who most want to maintain a relationship with their teachers want that relationship to be the same. That's one reason why so many educational places have nepotism policies (official or unofficial) -- it is *hard* to make the transition from a hierarchical relationship (teacher/student) to a flatter, mutually edifying one (friends/colleagues). 

The film is both sharp and melancholy about how easy it is to conflate nostalgia for a certain time of our lives with affinity for people who were a part of our lives during that time. I guess one thing I like about the film is that there is a difference between melancholy and tragedy. I've used the analogy before, but I am so often reminded of Jacques Ellul's take on Ecclesiastes, that we are afraid of God and so try to fill the God-shaped void in our hearts with things we think we can control: work, family, family, money. Even when we are successful in pursuing those things (which are often good in themselves even if they are not and cannot be the ultimate good), their loss is often painful not just intrinsically but also as a reminder of the holes they were not able to fill.

I liked this film better than The Browning Version (which I didn't hate) because it seems to be more nuanced and able to separate the pains of *losing* one's profession (through retirement or moving) from the pains of failing at it. Even if one if not a failure (and teaching is one of those things where nobody is ever a complete success or a complete failure), the act of giving up something that has been a core part of your practice and identity for so long is a sort of trauma. 

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Excellent, Ken. Hearing this analysis from a professor really gives Madadayo a boost in credibility in my mind. I was on the fence about some aspects if it, but I realize from your take that some of my concerns may vanish as I shift a bit and focus on some other very fine aspects of the film.

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Question : can someone please explain to me what is going on in the scene in which the wife keeps filling up the professor's sake cup while the professor is singing?  The thing that confused me here was that the students at that moment appear to be frozen in some sort of fear or apprehension rather than their customary joviality and laughter.  Why are they suddenly so serious? 

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Brian, can you be more specific about the scene?  Is it the one early in the film (the children's song about the moon) or near the end (about the white hare and the harvest god, or something else entirely?

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Spoiler alert:

The scene is closer to the end, quite soon after the depression over the cat has lifted. I wondered why the tone was more serious rather than the tone of celebration that I would have expected. It may be one in which the hare is mentioned...I don't recall for sure. I suspect there may be a cultural aspect that I am missing. Thank you!

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Spoiler alert:

The scene is closer to the end, quite soon after the depression over the cat has lifted. I wondered why the tone was more serious rather than the tone of celebration that I would have expected. It may be one in which the hare is mentioned...I don't recall for sure. I suspect there may be a cultural aspect that I am missing. Thank you!

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Ah, that one - as I recall, the Harvest God myth is one of the oldest in traditional Japanese animism.  So I think the quartet's surprise has to do with the Professor equating them with a deity.  It's quite an honor and one to be approached with reverence.  That's my take on it anyway...

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