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The Most Beautiful (1944) November 9, 2010

Posted by Cal in : Drama, 1940s films , trackback

Director: Akira Kurosawa  Starring: Soji Kiyokawa; Takako Irie; Sayuri Tanima  Territory: Japan

I try not to talk about politics or world affairs on this blog, but it’s absolutely impossible not to discuss the purpose of this film and the very reason it was made.  The Most Beautiful is a wartime propaganda movie about the exploits of a plucky bunch of girls at an optics factory who are asked to improve productivity by 50% due to increased Allied bombing over Japan.  The girls are affronted, not because the increase will work them to exhaustion, but because they think they’re capable of doing more for the cause.

The film opens with an intertitle reading “Attack and destroy the enemy”, and in the school-like dormitory life, the girls start the day by standing up and pledging en masse to do their best to destroy America and Britain.  And, with this film being made during wartime, there’s little doubt they mean it. 

The Most Beautiful

If you succeed in ignoring the obvious propaganda and gung-ho patriotic zeal of the movie, you’re still left with a lowbrow didactic essay full of one-dimensional characters who will stop at nothing to serve a noble cause.  Notably, one character takes a nasty fall from a rooftop and later in hospital, surrounded by her colleagues and bandaged, she declares her fortune that her hands were unhurt so that she can return to work soon.  It would be laughable if the circumstances were not so sinister.  Predictably, we also have girls struggling on despite illness, parental death and other assorted tragedy.

The Most Beautiful is morbidly fascinating as a semi-documentary on the war effort for the other side, but is too melodramatic, predictable and outdated to enjoy today.  Strange, then, that Kurosawa himself was so fond of it – and not only because he met his future wife on the film.  He later noted that many of the women involved quit the business soon after the film, and realised that he’d subjected them to a pretty gruelling regime of factory work, running practice and fife and drum marching.  It’s notable that this is one of the few films from the director to use female lead characters (indeed, there are few men playing significant parts) but this is one Kurosawa film I probably won’t be watching again.


1. Shawn "Masterofoneinchpunch" McKenna - November 10, 2010

Review of this is here: http://ow.ly/37FvD

While I liked it somewhat more than you, I still will not be watching it again any time soon.

2. Cal - November 11, 2010

Yes, it’s a good review. Definitely side with you over Richie on the importance of the optic - I think he was missing the point somewhat there.

I will say I didn’t hate the film, it’s just that I was morbidly fascinated by it as a propaganda piece and thought that as a movie it was found wanting. Now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I really don’t see any point in re-watching it. I can’t honestly say that about any other Kurosawa film I’ve seen yet (including the sequel to SANSHIRO SUGATA, which should be up here very very soon).

Have you seen NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH yet? If so, what are your thoughts?

3. Shawn "Masterofoneinchpunch" McKenna - November 11, 2010

There are three films I have not seen yet from Kurosawa: Sugata Sanshiro Part II, They Who Step on the Tiger’s Tail and Those Who Make Tomorrow (he was a co-director on this film and I think it is hard to get) so I have seen No Regrets for our Youth. Something irked me about the film, I do need to view it again to properly write it out though. Setsuko Hara’s performance was good (I’m a fan though). I just know that the film did not resonate with me on the first viewing (unlike some of his other films where I would ruminate about it)

I think you will like the Richie book on Kurosawa if you do not have it yet. I need to eventually get the Stephen Prince book on Kurosawa. I got Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto and that will be my next read for cinema books.

Sometimes the bad thing about reading those books is that you feel you need to do something special with your reviews/essays. I think that is why for the longest time I just did not write on Kurosawa. But after close examination I find some things are missing from all these books and then try to add them to my reviews/essays (the only previous review I did on Kurosawa was for Kagemusha not counting some ramblings in forum posts).

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