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Monday, August 20, 2007

Nijushi No Hitomi (Twenty-Four Eyes)


After seeing quite a few Japanese movies I decided to take a break as I found them very intense and my emotions started to tremble. But today I decided that it was time to start again and find out how long can I go seeing marvelous Japanese masterpieces. When I started to see this movie I was sort of relieved as it was a nice and happy story, but a little before the end of the first half the drama picked up and became as intense as the others I have seen.

This 1954 Keisuke Kinoshita movie tells the story of a young schoolteacher and her pupils. The movie stars in the first day of school and her first time ever teaching, her 12 pupils are first graders. Set in a picturesque island in the Inland Sea, the story covers a 20-year time span embracing prewar, wartime and early postwar Japan. Adapted from a novel by female writer Sakae Tsuboi the story is a strong bittersweet melodrama that goes from happiness and simple life to the hardships of still young girls forced by economic privation and/or death of their parents to leave school and support their families and young boys becoming cannon fodder.

But the story is actually about war and the sorrow that always comes from it; all done without one war scene, just showing how life developed in that isolated region while the world and Japan were fighting far away from there.

This black and white movie has nice cinematography and very nice long shots. Stars marvelous Hideko Takamine (also the lead in Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs and Flowing) as the schoolteacher and her performance is sweet as the young teacher, dry and dramatic as she gets older to end up bittersweet at postwar time.

When released in Japan it became a blockbuster that also won important Japanese awards, with Kinoshita winning in a year that also had great masterpieces from Mizoguchi, Naruse and Kurosawa. Also won the 1955 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film.

From the good Japanese movies I have seen since I started this blog, this is the easier to watch as is less dramatic on the surface and you have to sort of read between the lines to uncover the war related drama. Then, this is exactly what makes this movie outstanding.

Lastly, Kinoshita is noted for his films about the suffering of women and for the strong performances of female stars in them.

Enjoy!

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