The film follows the last 2 decades in the life of Hyakken Uchinda, a writer and teacher who retires in the war years of the early 1940's. His students venerate him in his old age, and join him and his family each year for a ritual birthday party, asking "are you ready?" to which he answers, "not yet," acknowledging that death may be near, but life still goes on.
Kurosawa is considered to be one of the greatest filmmakers of all time and this, his final and touching film, is the perfect ending to a lifetime of cinematic achievements.
Akira Kurosawa was 83 years old when he made this, his serenely glorious final film. Kurosawa's eyesight was failing, so Madadayo
would be the master's farewell to filmmaking, and one can hardly imagine a more lovely and loving way to end one of the greatest careers in motion picture history. Based on the literary works of Japanese author Hyakken Uchida, the film presents Uchida as its central character (named only "The Professor"), and begins in war-torn Tokyo with the sensei
's retirement from teaching in 1943. He is considered "solid gold" by his legacy of former students, who support their beloved teacher as he focuses on writing and throw annual birthday parties in his honor. Each year they ask "Maadha kai?" ("Are you ready?"), to which the aging professor responds, "Madadayo!" ("Not yet!"), acknowledging that he will die someday, but only when he's ready.
While Madadayo may not be autobiographical, the professor (played with charming grace by Tatsuo Matsumura) is clearly Kurosawa--a beloved master reflecting on life, continuing to teach, and expressing gratitude for a long and rewarding career that was "not yet" over. This is a calm and simple film of peaceful resolution, in which the only major crisis is the loss of a cat--an episode both heartbreaking and, finally, as life affirming as the professor's benevolent wisdom. And while Kurosawa was criticized for being sentimental when Madadayo was released in Japan in 1993 (it didn't reach Western shores until 2000), there's an important distinction to be made between sentiment and the twilight serenity of one of the cinema's most eloquent humanitarians. Closing with a final dream image that's as beautiful as only dreams can be, Madadayo is, in its own way, as miraculous as any of Kurosawa's previous masterworks. --Jeff Shannon