"Mada Kai" the students shout in unison. "Madadayo" shouts back the German professor. It is their annual get together - a ritual they religiously follow ever since their beloved professor retired. They tell jokes, get drunk, have a good time and then shout "Mada Kai" meaning "are you ready (for death)?" for which the professor always shoots back a "Madadayo", "not yet".
Kurosawa's last movie is about a 'never-say-die' professor who faces many hardships after retirement - just like his favorite poet of medieval times who loses everything and is forced to live in a forest - but has his students, his wife and his genial humor to see him through those difficulties.Generations of students think highly of their professor, call him 'pure gold', some visit his home regularly and even help him by building him a new home after his old one is bombed to ground by WW2 planes.
The movie progresses at a slow pace, tracing professor's 17 years after retirement. In the last Madakai party, he falls sick and is brought home to rest - his students, many of them grey haired by now, camp outside his bedroom for the night, and for old times sake get drunk and wonder what the professor might be dreaming about..The shot cuts to sleeping professor and then we're shown a bunch of kids playing "Madakai, Madadayo". I interpreted it as representative of professor's desire to live that is as young as ever.
While the movie isn't a bore, it is a tad slow-paced and doesn't stand up to Kurosawa's earlier works.
The impressive aspect however is the professor-student relationship. The professor doesn't deal with his students in a high-handed way; Though he is well read and knowledgeable, he earns their respect by being one among them - imparting 'gyan' at suitable opportunity, otherwise just talking silly simple stuff. That's what makes him 'pure gold' in their eyes.
Our Telugu directors should do well to watch this movie; many would learn a lesson or two about portraying teachers. Respect and Teachers, these two never go together in Telugu movies these days - that's a sad thing. Isn't it?