The Last Dance (1993)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5

Original Title: Daibyônin

, 1993. . Screenplay by Jûzô Itami. Cinematography by . Produced by , . Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

Director Juzo Itami’s run-in with yakuza gangsters, who slashed his film to punish him for his portrayal of them in his previous feature The Gentle Art of Japanese Extortion, sent him to the hospital and inspired him to write and direct this gentle treatise on the subject of death. The protagonist, Buhei Mikai () is himself an aging actor and director who is working on a tragic love story about a husband and wife dying of cancer when he is taken ill and sent to the hospital to be examined.

Tests are performed and the doctor informs Mikai that he has nothing more serious than an ulcer, which they will operate on to heal him; behind the scenes, however, the medical staff are informed that he has terminal cancer and is likely not going to last the year. This means that Buhei’s wife, played by the always arresting , has to delay her plans to separate from her husband in order to be there for him during this ordeal, despite the fact that she knows that he was with his actress mistress when he took ill.

The ins and outs of hospital procedures, medical ethics (it’s not uncommon in Japan for doctors to withhold information about serious illness from their patients) and the main character’s own evolving feelings about his mortality are processed for the film’s two hours as Buhei insists on continuing with his project between surgeries and finishing his film.

Unlike Itami’s previous efforts, in which he openly criticizes what he sees as the failures of Japanese society in various spheres of public life, this film takes a much softer approach to its admonishments, the distance he charts between illness in popular entertainment (the film within the film is a melodramatic joke compared to the gruesome shots of open-heart surgery) and the sympathy with which he treats doctors and nurses having to deal with so belligerent a patient feel much more self-reflexive than the work he has done before this.

Unfortunately, it’s also one of his weakest films, the humour is sweet but not particularly memorable, and the plotting gets vague and unsure of itself in the final third. It’s a lovely experience in many ways, but its sentimentality is its least convincing aspect, and none of it is particularly interesting..


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