The Most Beautiful (1944) November 9, 2010Posted 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.
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fascinating as a semi-documentary on the war effort for the other side, but is too melodramatic, predictable and outdated to enjoy today.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.