It is a fine and touching film. Many of Kurosawa’s cinematic and narrative traits are already well evident. The themes include the enabling power of love, the essence of art, the malfunctions of society, the exploitation of individuals, and the consequences of war. It was his sixth film and second post-war. It was filmed during the Occupation by the Americans, which lasted from the surrender in the World War Two of Japan 1945 until 1951. In the first year of the Occupation, 350,000 Americans were stationed in Japan. In this 1947 film, all the music is Western, from Schubert to My Blue Heaven. and the clothes (except for those at the bottom of a devastated society) and the children’s game (baseball) are oppressively Western as well.
And no, Tokyo, and life therein, with Westernization forced upon it, are not presented as attractive. In March, 1945, Tokyo and its civilians were the object of the most destructive air raid in the history of humanity, with more damage and death inflicted than on than Dresden, Hamburg, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki. Over 40 square kilometres of central Tokyo, one-fifth of the city, were obliterated and turned to ash and rubble; temperatures at ground level were between 300 and 2,000 degrees Celsius; 100,000 civilians were killed by being burned to death, many of whose bodies, charred, simply turned to ashes; one million people were made homeless. Militarily, the Americans knew that the raid would be ineffective, and also knew it was unnecessary. It was, thus, wanton murder.
The two main characters are a young army veteran and his fiancé. They cannot afford to marry or to afford a place of their own, so they are forced to apart with others in cramped quarters. They have 35 yen between them for this particular Sunday, their day off, and stretch the money as far as it can go. The third main character is Tokyo itself.
In the penultimate, decisive scene the man, with the emotional support of the woman, wills himself to hear and conduct Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, in an empty bandshell and at end of their day together. It seems simultaneously to go on too long and too little; but that is one of its dramatic points, which are that the interfusion of love actuates the art and the emotional artistry of human beings, that imagination is able to make more favourable interpretations and representations of actuality, and that, ultimately, no matter how much is attempted, how much is accomplished, in the end we remain unfinished. The last scene depicts the couple waiting at the station for the train that, in the first scene of the film, brought the woman to this Sunday in Tokyo, so that she departs and he, awaiting her arrival in the opening scene, walks away to await her new arrival seven days hence.