Picks and Pans Review: Rhapsody in August

updated 12/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/09/1991 AT 01:00 AM EST

Sachiko Murase, Richard Gere

It is nearing Aug. 9, 1990, the 45th anniversary of the atom bomb blast over Nagasaki. In a tiny village on the far side of the mountain from that city, an ancient woman who survived the attack (Murase) now enjoys the simple pleasure of her grandchildren's presence for summer vacation. They represent a new generation: the older boy and girl wear MIT and USC sweatshirts, and one of the younger kids confesses that the blast "seems only like a scary fairy tale."

Not, of course, to Grandmother, who lost her husband in the firestorm "when the sky split open." Despite this, she tells the children, she no longer hates Americans. "The war," she says, "was to blame."

Blame is, indeed, not to be meted out here, says the master Japanese director, Akira (The Seven Samurai, Rashomon) Kurosawa. In his deliberate style, the venerable filmmaker, now 81, has etched a work so delicate that it seems to have sprung from a Japanese watercolor rather than the flames of Nagasaki. The one clumsy stroke: Gere as Grandmother's nephew, whose heritage is brought home to him a shade too easily during his visit to Nagasaki.

The value of the film, though, lies in the lesson that Kurosawa imparts through the old woman's pain—namely, that the world must not forget, or else mankind could be condemned to suffer another Nagasaki. (PG)

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