After the core group of Toho Studios actors left Toho to form their own studio Shin (New) Toho, the directors who remained behind were tasked with producing films that would combat the new star-studded production company.
Kurosawa was sent to work on three scripts, one of which he would direct. That film was One Wonderful Sunday.
After completing one whole script with Senkichi Taniguchi and writing one part of a four-part film, Kurosawa began his work on One Wonderful Sunday.
This would be the first of two consecutive films he would write with his childhood friend Keinosuke Uekusa, who he happened to run into while he working as an assistant director on a film Uekusa was working on as an extra.
Because all of Toho's former stars went off to form their new company, Toho was left with a problem. They had very few actors, and they were largely unknown.
This problem would be remedied by a talent search. This casting call would prove to be a godsend for Kurosawa, but this will be discussed further in his next film, Drunken Angel.
The story of One Wonderful Sunday is rather simple. Isao Numazaki and Chieko Nakakita play Yuzo and Masako, a couple who spend a Sunday traversing post-war Tokyo with only 35 yen.
They tour a house they could never afford, then an apartment that is almost unlivable according to a former tenant.
In the beginning Yuzo is the realist while Masako is the dreamer. Masako dreams of a lavish home and a coffee shop of their own.
"Dreams won't fill your belly," Yuzo says.
Yuzo, a veteran of the war, plays a game of baseball with a group of children before they go to a cabaret to try to find a friend of Yuzo's.
They visit the local zoo before trying to get into a concert of Shubert's Unfinished Symphony, only to find that the cheap tickets are sold out.
Depressed, they return to Yuzo's where he has somewhat of a breakdown. After he calms down a bit they go out for coffee, only to learn that they have been charged 30 yen when they have only 20 remaining.
Things finally begin to look up when they travel to a ruined part of Tokyo and begin to create an imaginary coffee shop before being jolted back to reality by a group of onlookers.
Finally, in the films climactic scene they return to an empty amphitheater where Yuzo conducts an invisible orchestra playing Shubert's Unfinished Symphony.
One Wonderful Sunday is perhaps less a film about two middle-class lovers strolling about Tokyo than it is a look at post-war Tokyo. Yuzo and Masako are merely our tour guides.
Shot largely on location in Tokyo, the film resembles the neo-realist cinema of the Italians in the late 40s and 50s. Those films and this one are focused on very real life situations and people.
One Wonderful Sunday falls under the category of shomin-geki, a term which means "common-man film". Yasujiro Ozu is probably Japan's most ardent supporter of this particular category of films, as they are normally associated with family dramas.
The actors, when filmed from afar are almost indistinguishable from the rest of the public.
Kurosawa often used hidden cameras to obtain candid shots of the actors. In his autobiography he even details an instance when a man positioned himself in front of a hidden camera. When Kurosawa attempted to nudge him out of the way, the man put up his hands and took out his wallet. He assumed Kurosawa was a pickpocket.
While Kurosawa's portrayel of post-war Japan in this film is not as pessimistic as will be seen in his 1949 film Stray Dog, it is nonetheless critical of the Western influence that pervaded after the war.
Almost everyone in the film can be seen wearing Western clothing. Yuzo plays baseball, a Western sport, with "Twinkle-twinkle Little Star", a Western song, playing on the soundtrack.
The signage for the cabaret and coffee shop, among other things, are printed in English.
Even the cabaret itself is a Western influence. The loud Western music that floods the soundtrack will be explored again in Kurosawa's next film.
The post-war atmosphere in Japan created a larger gap between classes, as is evident in this film.
Money was scarce, and many took to the black market. The film establishes an important dichotomy; those who succumb to the black market to obtain money and those who earn an honest living.
This dichotomy is tied into the traditional upper and lower classes, as the film makes it seem like the only way out of the lower classes is through the black market. Any other method would be an exercise in futility.
Children are always an excellent way to garner an emotional response from the audience. In this film, a homeless boy asks Masako for her rice ball. After the couple begins to question the boy, he responds by telling them to just worry about themselves.
The audience first sees him as a train whistle blows, his figure is slowly revealed from behind the smoke of the train. His face and clothing filthy from dozens or even hundreds of passing trains.
The boy is clearly aware of his situation, and is a stark reminder of the stagnation that must have been felt among the lower class at the time.
One of the most interesting examples of the class definition comes during the zoo scene. Yuzo and Masako visit several animals and along the way give the various animals human traits.
"That's because they can sleep in the water," replies Yuzo.
Yuzo says the monkeys act like humans are the show.
The final shot goes along with the monkey remark, as Kurosawa cleverly shoots the couple from behind a fence, making it look like they are the ones who are imprisoned, which indeed they are in their own way.
Like many of Kurosawa's earlier films, it seems as though he is trying to make more of a social statement than a humanist statement.
Even Kurosawa's left-leaning ideology is expounded by the characters when they talk of opening a cafe for the masses.
But in the end the humanist side does come out. Kurosawa ends this film with a sort of bittersweet optimism. Yuzo has his faith restored in the dream they share, and they hear the music of the Unfinished Symphony.
"See you next Sunday," Masako says to Yuzo as she boards her train back home. This represents a solemn reminder that the events of this film could happen anyday and to anyone.
Kurosawa often deals with a sort of "life goes on, everything repeats itself" sort of theme, and this film's ending is an excellent example of it.
Finally, a discussion of this film would not be complete without talking about Kurosawa's daring experiment.
In the scene at the empty amphitheater, Yuzo struggles to find it within himself to hear the music of Shubert's Unfinished Symphony.
Desperate to raise his hopes Masako turns and addresses the camera directly.
Breaking the "fourth wall" Masako pleads to the audience to clap their hands, believing if they do the couple will surely hear the music.
Kurosawa's films already have a fair amount of audience participation in the form of simply getting lost in the story. It was his intention to enhance this participation with the audience with this experiment.
In his book he says the experiment ultimately failed in Japan, where audiences stook stark still in the theater. Upon its subsequent release in Paris the experiment was incredibly successful and garnered exactly the response Kurosawa was hoping for.