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No Regrets for Our Youth: Propaganda, Art and Beauty

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    Vili Maunula

    In our most recent editions of the Film Club we have been discussing a number of wartime films, and in doing so have frequently touched on the topic of propaganda films. In a thread on Sanshiro Sugata II, Chris and I (posts #4 and #6) suggested that because of its documentary style, The Most Beautiful somewhat paradoxically feels less effective as a propaganda film than Sanshiro Sugata Part Two. I have, however, sometimes wondered if it’s not No Regrets for Our Youth that is actually the most direct and least successful of Kurosawa’s propaganda films.

    No Regrets for Our Youth clearly has a message to deliver, and at times it does the delivering quite bluntly. Interestingly, the degree of bluntness increases greatly after the death of Noge, who is the primary carrier of the intended message. As long as Noge is on the screen, his views can be attributed to his character, but after his death and the subsequent idolisation of the character, the force-fed didacticism become a little overwhelming — a situation not unlike the difference we noticed between Sanshiro Sugata II and The Most Beautiful. And while I find the premise of No Regrets for Our Youth interesting and have nothing against its message, I think that the latter half of the film suffers greatly from its directness, at some points pretty much collapsing into some sort of strange socialist hogwash that could almost pass as a post-war Soviet film. How much of this was Kurosawa and how much the result of meddling by Toho, I don’t know. In A Hundred Years of Japanese Film, Richie mentions that the screenplay

    went through a number of transformations, none of which Kurosawa wanted and all of them dictated by Toho’s own Scenario Review Board, a leftist organization formed between the two Toho labor strikes, a time when the number of Communist Party members had much increased. Nonetheless, the film showed what Kurosawa wanted it to show. “I believed then that it was necessary to respect the ‘self’ for Japan to be reborn. I still believe it. I depicted a woman who maintained such a sense of ‘self.'” (112)

    For me, it is sometimes difficult to see the real “self” in Yukie. She is certainly a fiery character who does what she wants, but I find her story arc a little unconvincing, and as I never get to like or care for her, I cannot really feel for her hardships at the end of the film (in fact, she seems brainwashed to me — manipulated by the screenwriters). I believe that there are two reasons for my rejection of Yukie’s story, one being the way that the film keeps jumping forward without properly developing Yukie’s character, and secondly that I am not a great fan of Setsuko Hara’s performance here, which I feel is all over the place, and not in a good way. Having said that, I assume that the fault is not so much with Hara, who can be excellent, but rather with her director, as I get the same disjointed feeling from her performance in The Idiot.

    In any case, although I do not consider the film’s attempt at didacticism very successful — Kurosawa would become much more skilled at this game with his next few films — there is still a certain charm to No Regrets for Our Youth‘s directness. And what I find even more interesting is the film’s bold acknowledgement of its own didacticism, and the argument that beauty without meaning is not only meaningless, but also quite worthless. This point is made in what is perhaps the strongest statement about reason and logic in arts to be found in any of Kurosawa’s works:

    Yukie: Let’s not talk about this. It’s boring. Unlike you, I don’t think the world runs solely on logic. There must be more beautiful things, more pleasant things. Itokawa, you want to hear some nice music? Come on!

    Noge: That’s the trouble with you. Why don’t you listen to what people say? All you know of life are the pretty scenes outside your window. Surrounded by your father’s fawning students. Maybe you need a slap in the face to grow up. You ridicule logic, but beauty and pleasure not founded on reason are mere bubbles. (around 00:09:45 – 00:10:45, Eclipse translation)

    This last statement is heavily underlined in the film with a reaction shot from Yukie, who then goes on to passionately play Modest Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition on the piano, the metaphorical significance of which also seems quite important to me.

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    cocoskyavitch

    OOh Vili,

    …Having said that, I assume that the fault is not so much with Hara, who can be excellent, but rather with her director, as I get the same disjointed feeling from her performance in The Idiot.

    Whatchoo talkin about, Willis?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili, you said,

    “but I find her story arc a little unconvincing, and as I never get to like or care for her, I cannot really feel for her hardships at the end of the film…”

    I would say that I dislike her in the beginning of the film, but admire her tremendously when she sets herself to replant the damaged crops in the end.

    In some way Kurosawa shot himself or the socialist message in the foot-it is really her separateness from the group-her individual character that is developed at the very end of the film in her persistance and indefatigable attitude toward her husband’s parents. She will succeed by sheer force of will and her own strength!

    That’s when I rather like her!

    There is one rather strange montage of overlapping and translucent images of Setsuko Hara against a door…troubling over suitors…I remember that from seeing it on the big screen some 20 years ago. I hated it then, found it less horrible now-still, not my favorite, and Kurosawa was right to dispense with the histrionics in that form. After this experiment, people tend to straightforward wail when they’re upset in a Kurosawa film. It’s better than being “arfully” upset. Ugh.

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    cocoskyavitch

    And, finally, Vili, the didactic element is least loved by most critics of Kurosawa. Most folks prefer a story to a lecture, as I have found in teaching. You gather up folks into a thrilling yarn and they are yours! You tell them what to think and how to feel, and they start to hate you!

    It’s human nature. We prefer to be seduced than bulldozed…hell, why not? So the didactic element rears it’s head even in these early films. Kurosawa told us that his father thought film could be educational, and Kurosawa felt it his duty to say something significant in his films.

    Noge: That’s the trouble with you. Why don’t you listen to what people say? All you know of life are the pretty scenes outside your window. Surrounded by your father’s fawning students. Maybe you need a slap in the face to grow up. You ridicule logic, but beauty and pleasure not founded on reason are mere bubbles.

    Guess who I want to slap in the face? Noge is the typical male ass of the time. Maybe he needed to be shot. The film certainly benefits from his absence. In fact, if there is a lesson, it is that women of that time without men have the necessity of finding out what they are made of-and that men tend to be a huge distraction when they aren’t being pompous asses. In other words, the opportunity for women to develop their character is limited to such dire circumstances, most would never choose to do so.

    I think the film is a record of a remakable moment in time when some women saw a bit of light through a crack in the door…before it was abruptly shut in their faces.

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    Fabien

    Vili, would you give some example of what you call socialist hogwash?

    I fail to see what you point out there, and it might be due to the multiple understandings of socialist or to the different meanings of hogwash (foolish talk / foolish thing / mixed up talk or things) – I don’t hear much talk in the latter part of the film.

    About Setsuko Hara, I think I didn’t see her in more than a handful of films, so I couldn’t give an interesting answer on this point, but all I can say is that I like a lot the character she plays and the evolution of this character, and it’s partly due to her play, not only to the story.

    But I must agree with your point on jumping forward without proper development: I felt sometimes like there were “holes” in the evolution of Yukie.

    Coco, I’m a little disturbed (in a good way) by your last message.

    In fact, I see a bit of myself in this striking Noge’s reply, and I don’t see this at all like a male lecturing a female, but like an individual trying to convince another (a relative, in my case) that the world doesn’t revolve around themselves, or not only around pleasure or beauty, albethey very important and valuable parts of our life. (And – sadly? – this last point is lacking from the dialogue.)

    This being said, I think I understand and share your point of view about sexism (which point I briefly introduced in the other topic), and if I understand you well, the door is still shut today.

    At least, this is my point of view, reinforced by recent readings like Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, awesome and courageous argument which fought 1792 prejudices and discriminations that are still there more than two centuries later.

    (Don’t know if this is part of the propaganda topic – american demand about “woman liberation” in post-war films – or if this could feed another topic.)

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    cocoskyavitch

    Fabien, it is rather Noge’s complete lack of awareness of what it would take to overturn millenia of social role enforcement that angers, not simply the dynamic of male lecturing female. He blames the victim. Doesn’t that upset you at all?

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    Fabien

    (Please excuse my possible misunderstandings and my bad english, it is not easy to explain oneself on such a topic.)

    I had not seen in these replies the social role enforcement you mention, but now I see your point and understand your desire of slapping.

    In this precise scene, I saw first Noge criticism against Yukie as partly similar to some criticism I would address to someone (be they man or woman), and not the sexual segregation (logic for men / beauty for women – by the way, that is an important point of the book I cited above) which was then eclipsed by the other part or other reading (reason and logic of the problems in the world for the committed / beauty and pleasure for the egotist).

    But I saw social role enforcement in other scenes, particularly about the young woman who should be put under the responsibilty of a “good husband” and about the “good wife” wearing a kimono and preparing meals and arranging flowers, and though I can’t exactly say that it upsets me, it always irritates me up to some point, especially with recent and contemporary works.

    (There might have been some poor excuses some time ago not to see the matter in this, but I can’t see any excuse today.)

    Maybe should I be upset, but being irritated is better than seeing the situation as normal, right?

    Did the later scenes I mention upset you like the first replies?

    I, for one, see social pressure as more vicious than any argument.

    (Not sure that social pressure are the right words for french pression sociale, by this I mean a throng of little remarks, questions, conventions, principles, customs, applied to an individual by his or her neighbours, and which lead the individual to take actions and decisions not pertaining to his or her own wills, and possibly to his or her detriment.)

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    cocoskyavitch

    Fabien, your understanding is quite good, and your English excellent. “Pression sociale” s a wonderful phrase. I’m going to use that!

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    Ugetsu

    Coco

    Fabien, it is rather Noge’s complete lack of awareness of what it would take to overturn millenia of social role enforcement that angers, not simply the dynamic of male lecturing female. He blames the victim. Doesn’t that upset you at all?

    I’m a bit puzzled by this – where did he lecture her (apart from where he was angry earlier on at her refusal to discuss politics, which I think was understandable). I thought the scene before his arrest where Noge says simply ‘arigato’ to her face was quite touching – it seemed to be saying that he was fully aware that his decision to protect her by not involving her fully in the plot was putting her in an impossible position – making her be the obedient Japanese wife, when she wanted more and it seems, he wanted her to be more, but felt that it was too dangerous for her.

    I’m a bit puzzled too by the idea that the film is didactic in any way. What I found striking about it was Kurosawa’s refusal to take a ‘political’ side. Yukie never adopts Noge’s political radicalism – she instead seeks the route of personal empowerment and community work. While obviously the militarists are viewed as evil (great performance by Shimura of course), AK never seems to side with either the liberals, the leftist radicals, or those who were forced to ‘betray’ their beliefs in order to make a living. I see the film as being the exact opposite of didactic and I agree with Richie that if the film had been made by a more overtly political film maker like Immamura, it would have been a disaster.

    As for Hara’s performance, I fall on the side of her fans with this. I thought that she was least convincing at the beginning – she was just too mature and, to be honest, too old, to play the giggling teenager. But this is a problem in any film that spans the years I think. I think she was simply astonishing in the final hour, especially in her transition from city girl to peasant worker.

    Overall, on my second viewing of the film, I’m even more impressed than at first. I think its a subtle, fair minded depiction of the era, that avoids the temptation for easy sermonising or the identification of ‘good’ or ‘bad’. I think it represents very well the difficulties in a conformist society of confronting evil when that evil is the establishment itself. I also think the ending is searingly honest, far better than most other films of the period in addressing the real dilemmas faced in a post war world. In fact, I think such honesty is quite remarkable considering the war had only ended a year before.

    Structurally, the film was clumsy at times i thought, although I can’t think of many examples of films that involve time hopping over a long period that doesn’t struggle with overcoming an episodic type structure. I found Yukies journey from silly spoiled girl to rebel without a cause, and onto a sad personal journey very convincing. As Coco says, her inner struggle is overplayed at times, something that Kurosawa was prone to do I think in his contemporary films (such as The Bad Sleep Well). But as a film for me it got stronger and stronger towards the end, which is a bit ironic as I think it was the second half that Kurosawa was forced to change from the original script (I’d love to know what the original script did).

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for the responses! It’s great to hear your various reactions to the film. Really interesting reading.

    Coco: I would say that I dislike her in the beginning of the film, but admire her tremendously when she sets herself to replant the damaged crops in the end.

    I too find Yukie annoying at the beginning, but while I can agree that her actions at the end could be considered admirable, the turn of events seems to me too forced to be realistic. I just cannot muster enough suspension of disbelief to really accept that her transformation comes from the character, rather than the screenwriter’s pen. The “holes” in Yukie’s development that Fabien mentioned are too big for me to be comfortable with.

    Additionally, Hara’s performance feels too twitchy to me at the beginning, and too blank at the end. I actually prefer the twitchy version, if I have to choose. The blank madness that she carries on her face in the countryside makes me uncomfortable as a viewer.

    Fabien: Vili, would you give some example of what you call socialist hogwash?

    Sure! I basically mean the style with which a part of the last third of the film is presented, for example with Yukie knee down in mud working for an ideal, while the wind blows around her and grandiose music plays on the background. It all reminds me of post-war Soviet films, with their excessive glorification of an ideal.

    So, I didn’t really mean “hogwash” in the sense of talk, but rather in the sense of something that I would consider inferior, kind of nonsensical hegemony that is devoid of a truly believable situation, conflict or argument. I could perhaps have picked a better word there.

    Ugetsu: I’m a bit puzzled too by the idea that the film is didactic in any way.

    I suppose that it is the above-mentioned two aspects — my inability to accept Yukie’s transformation and the narrative style used towards the end — that makes it seem didactic to me. The glorification of Noge and what he stands for is understandable, but the manner in which it is carried out just isn’t that to me.

    While you are right that Yukie never really adopts Noge’s radicalism, her actions nevertheless seem like a direct response to his fate. Although she is unable to continue the exact fight that he was fighting, she nevertheless continues to fight for the cause. Of the two groups that condemn Noge in the film — the intellectuals and the commoners — she is able to confront and educate the latter, and in doing so also help those that Noge expressed his regret for having failed, i.e. his parents.

    Coco: it is rather Noge’s complete lack of awareness of what it would take to overturn millenia of social role enforcement that angers, not simply the dynamic of male lecturing female. He blames the victim. Doesn’t that upset you at all?

    This is an interesting take on the relationship between Yukie and Noge. Being the sort of chauvinistic pig that I suppose I am, it has never crossed my mind to really consider the film in these terms.

    Interesting as your take is, I must say that like Ugetsu I am a little puzzled by your response above. Noge’s lecturing Yukie seems quite justified to me too within the context of the film. Even more so, she herself seems to accept his “beauty and pleasure not founded on reason are mere bubbles” attitude immediately after his departure, proceeding to lecture poor Itokawa, the constant third wheel in the relationship.

    I think that it is also significant that later on in the film we have an image of her (?) piano playing superimposed on her bare hands working on the fields. The hands that used to idly contribute to the “bubble” of empty beauty and pleasure have now found a reason for their existence.

    Ultimately, the idea of Yukie fighting for her gender doesn’t quite ring true to me. I’m not even sure if she is fighting for any ideal at all. To me, she seems to be fighting for nothing else than her dead husband, which is hardly a bold feminist statement. But I will probably have to watch the film again to see what I may have missed!

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    Fabien

    Thanks for the clarification, Vili.

    As far as I am concerned, you couldn’t have picked better words.

    I don’t remember encountering hogwash before, so this one is a discovery (and I am not sure to fully understand the etymologic origins yet).

    And, as I thought, we do not give the same meaning to socialist, which seems just as usual as it ranges from the best of the behaviors to the worst, from an era to the next, from an end of the political spectrum to the other…

    (My understanding of socialism is nearly opposite to the symbolic image of a worker kneeing in the mud, accomplishing a holy duty.)

    Here I see that it is pointing to post-war soviet films, and I must say that I have some lacuna, here, the last soviet films I watched being Battleship Potemkine and The White Sun of the Desert (soviet “western” with a curious point of view on women, too).

    On this point, you set in motion some questioning which could be tied to Ugetsu’s remark on a related topic about some part of the film which could be considered as a call to arms for the Soviets: using the same mud-knee-worker symbolism as in the soviet propaganda, isn’t that wonder for an american influenced propaganda film?

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    Ugetsu

    Fabien

    On this point, you set in motion some questioning which could be tied to Ugetsu’s remark on a related topic about some part of the film which could be considered as a call to arms for the Soviets: using the same mud-knee-worker symbolism as in the soviet propaganda, isn’t that wonder for an american influenced propaganda film?

    I’ve been wondering about this – partly it may have been that in 1946, ‘Uncle Joe’ was still an ally, there was still a bit of the post war victory glow. Perhaps also that quite simply, the US censors didn’t know enough about Soviet film to spot the rather obvious Socialist Realism references?

    I made the comment earlier in another context (Seven Samurai) that the influence of Soviet film makers on AK was at leas as great, if not greater, than the Western, but that most western (or specifically American) writers, simply aren’t familiar enough with films from that period to recognise the influences. I’m not sure if this is unfair or not, but the more I watch the films the more I see the Russian influence (having said that, my knowledge of Soviet/Russian film is quite minimal).

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    Vili Maunula

    Fabien: I don’t remember encountering hogwash before, so this one is a discovery (and I am not sure to fully understand the etymologic origins yet).

    As a (non-practicing) linguist, I must mention that etymology doesn’t necessarily always tell much about the current meaning of a word, but in the case of hoghwash it actually seems to be relevant. Just remember to check hogwash (you linked to hog 😉 ).

    Fabien: And, as I thought, we do not give the same meaning to socialist

    Indeed, that was perhaps another rather poor choice of words from my part! I specifically meant the Soviet type socialist propaganda here.

    Fabien: On this point, you set in motion some questioning which could be tied to Ugetsu’s remark on a related topic about some part of the film which could be considered as a call to arms for the Soviets: using the same mud-knee-worker symbolism as in the soviet propaganda, isn’t that wonder for an american influenced propaganda film?

    As far as I understand, there were three types of external pressure affecting the film:

    1) the American-led censorship system;

    2) the strong leftist union movement within the film studio; and

    3) the need to distinguish the film from another film that was in production at the time and also dealt with the Kyoto University Incident (Richie mentions this on page 37).

    One would suppose that pressures (1) and (2) are the major reasons for why the film is seemingly a mixture of both very pro-American and pro-leftist sentiments. It must also be kept in mind that just like Ugetsu mentioned, the anti-communist views were quite muted in the US during the Second World War, and I think that it was only around 1947 that the post-war Red Scare really begun.

    But there may actually have been something else going on as well. Sorensen writes quite a bit about No Regrets in what is one of the most interesting sections of his book. From the pro-American side of things counts that No Regrets for Our Youth conforms to at least six of the ten “desirable subjects” that the American-led Civil Information & Education Section in charge of pre-production censorship had listed in September 1945 (the argument is on page 218, the list of promoted subjects comes from pages 87-88). These are:

    – “Showing Japanese in all walks of life cooperating to build a peaceful nation” (the ending)

    – “Demonstrating individual initiative and enterprise solving the postwar problems of Japan in industry, agriculture, and all phases of national life” (Yukie’s character)

    – “Developing political consciousness and responsibility among the people” (Yukie’s aspiration to fight for women’s rights in the village)

    – “Encouraging respect for the rights of men as individuals” (Yukie’s individualism)

    – “Promoting tolerance and respect among all races and classes” (Yukie’s relationship with the peasants as a member of the middle class)

    – “Dramatizing figures in Japanese history who stood for freedom and representative government” (the historical counterparts of Yagihara and Noge)

    For the record, the remaining four “desirable subjects” that Sorensen does not see as part of No Regrets for Our Youth are:

    – “Dealing with the resettlement of Japanese soldiers into civilian life”

    – “Showing Japanese prisoners of war formerly in our [i.e. American] hands being restored in favor of the community”

    – “Encouraging peaceful and constructive organization of labor unions”

    – “Approval of free discussion of political issues”

    I am not sure why Sorensen doesn’t consider the last of these as part of No Regrets. To me it seems like a subject at the very centre of the film. Note also the one before that about labour unions.

    Sorensen also mentions that CI&E was very happy with Kurosawa’s film, with the head of the organisation even throwing “a party to celebrate the success of the film”, while the officer in charge of the film’s censorship process “considered the film one of the best he had given guidance to”. (page 218, quoting Kyoko Hirano in both cases).

    But what the Americans didn’t realise according to Sorensen is that while the film on the surface conformed brilliantly to censorship requirements, the meaning construed by the contemporary Japanese audience was very different, and had a strongly anti-American flavour. (219) Sorensen’s argument is that while the historical source for the film was the Kyoto Universe Incident (or Takigawa incident), the real reference was actually more contemporary, namely “a highly controversial countrywide purge ordered by SCAP [i.e. the Americans] and implemented by Japanese authorities to root out antidemocratic elements within the public sector. The purge within the education system began on 7 May 1946 … As a result, 119,700 teachers — about one fourth of all educators — resigned, and about 3000 were purged.” (231-232)

    In spring 1946, Japan had additionally been working on a new constitution with promises of democracy, political freedom and freedom of speech. However, when a draft leaked to the media in March, the “awkward Japanese wording … revealed to the Japanese readers that it had been written by the occupiers”. (229) In Sorensen’s view, “Not many families in Japan could have been ignorant of the purge within the education sector nor of the promise of democracy, political freedom and freedom of speech charted in the draft for the new constitution. … not many amongst the audience could have watched the film unaware of the limitations of freedom of speech imposed by US censorship.” (232)

    Finally, Sorensen notes that there was additionally also the case of Ichiro Hatoyama:

    The last piece to complete the picture of the occupiers as hypocrites, who did not practice what they preached with regards to political freedom, was the foregrounding of the former Minister of Education Ichiro Hatoyama in the opening text of the original print. As leader and founder of the Liberal Party in April 1946, Hatoyama was purged by SCAP on the day before he was to become the first freely elected postwar Prime Minsiter of new democratic Japan, 4 May 1946. The reasons given for his purge were, among other things, his role in the Kyoto University Incident in 1933. … Consequently we may speculate if Kurosawa’s explicit mention of Hatoyama as the bad guy of the Kyoto University Incident made the audience assign guilt to the man … or whether it was understood as a reminder of the injustice suffered by the recently purged teachers as well as the first freely elected postwar premier at the hands of hypocritical occupiers. (232)

    Is Hatoyama mentioned in the Criterion print? I didn’t notice his name in the subtitles, but haven’t had the time to look at the Japanese.

    In any case, putting everything together, I find this an interesting and fairly powerful argument, although I have no background knowledge that would help me judge the accuracy of Sorensen’s claims. But it does all fit, although I still don’t subscribe to Sorensen’s larger argument that Kurosawa’s post-war films (including No Regrets) specifically “catered to the values of the past” (236), even if they were often ready to ask questions about the directions that post-war Japan was taking.

    So, under Sorensen’s reading of the film, it should be no surprise that No Regrets for Our Youth also contains material that does not really promote the American system. I think that Sorensen is correct in calling No Regrets a deliberately ambiguous film (235), and especially the last half an hour or so — i.e. the parts with Yukie working in the countryside — seem to be at the centre of that ambiguity. Most critics seem to consider Yukie’s hardships in the fields the very best part of the film (while I personally find it the section that actually fails the film), and yet interpretations of these scenes seem to vary quite a lot. Some consider the scenes as showing Yukie’s self-determination and individualism, while others see them as representing some kind of a socialist message about communal living, or some such.

    Kurosawa writes that this section was the one that had to undergo a major rewrite, and not because of American censors but because of Toho’s Scenario Review Committee, which consisted of Communist Party members. Crucially, the rewrite was not mandated by the actual content of the script, but as I mentioned earlier because another film with the same subject was also being made. (Autobiography, 148) And while he does not directly say so, I get the feeling that Kurosawa considers the rewritten scenes successful, having “poured a feverish energy” as well as “[a]ll of the rage I felt toward the Scenario Review Committee” into those scenes. (149) The latter quote may be particularly important. If it was his rage against the Review Committee that he poured into these scenes, one would imagine that he was not going to make them conform to the committee’s leftist ideology. Another interesting point is how Kurosawa recounts that the American censors particularly loved this last part of the film. (149) Perhaps what he is trying to suggest is that the pro-leftist interpretation of these scenes is not correct from his point of view.

    Having said this, I do sometimes wonder about the very pro-American attitude that runs through Something Like an Autobiography. One must remember that the book was written in the early 1980s at a time when Kurosawa’s career was practically rescued by American film makers. And, after all, the epilogue to the book also pretty much questions how much of the book is honest. I tend to take the whole thing with a grain of salt.

    Ugetsu: I made the comment earlier in another context (Seven Samurai) that the influence of Soviet film makers on AK was at leas as great, if not greater, than the Western, but that most western (or specifically American) writers, simply aren’t familiar enough with films from that period to recognise the influences. I’m not sure if this is unfair or not, but the more I watch the films the more I see the Russian influence (having said that, my knowledge of Soviet/Russian film is quite minimal).

    I think that this is very true indeed.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    Having said this, I do sometimes wonder about the very pro-American attitude that runs through Something Like an Autobiography. One must remember that the book was written in the early 1980s at a time when Kurosawa’s career was practically rescued by American film makers. And, after all, the epilogue to the book also pretty much questions how much of the book is honest. I tend to take the whole thing with a grain of salt.

    You read my mind! I was going to make a new post addressing exactly this question, but now your comments above persuade me that I should read Sorensen first.

    I’ve been mulling over Scandal quite a bit, and what has occurred to me is that of his six immediate post war films, at least three can be directly interpreted as being anti-American in tone in quite a specific way. I’m thinking of the interpretation we discussed of Scandal being really a satire of American culture (or more specifically, how the Japanese adopted to American law and culture), and how there are strong indications of anti-American undercurrents in his ‘gangster’ films, and now ‘No Regrets’. I was going to ask the question whether Kurosawa deliberately set critics like Richie off the scent in his interviews and books, either deliberately, or simply because he was too polite to explain this angle to interviewers. I think there is far too much emphasis on the ‘humanism’ of Kurosawas early films, and not enough on their satirical and allegorical intent. In terms of assessing his films, I think this does lead me to the conclusion that the ‘ranking’ given by many of the critics are quite wrong, and that for example Scandal should be considered a major work.

    In the context of ‘No Regrets’, I will watch the whole film again soon when I get a chance, but I really do think there are all sorts of levels within the film that are critical of the occupation and the Japanese reaction to the occupation, and that Kurosawa fully intended his audience to interpret it this way.

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    cocoskyavitch

    I cannot help but take a post-feminist stance on interpreting the film, and though I wouldn’t be tempted to call anyone deprecating names, as Vili says,

    “…Being the sort of chauvinistic pig that I suppose I am, it has never crossed my mind to really consider the film in these terms.”

    ….I can do nothing but consider the film in these terms, as it is relevant to the character’s development and my own interests in life. It is difficult to believe that a young woman inculcated into a particular cultural worldview would not, even considering a desire for social change, have her own imagination conditioned by that worldview.

    Thus, I am not surprised that Yukie:

    1. takes Noge’s admonishment to heart (and I am sure I don’t have to explain why this makes sense considering her social conditioning)

    2. links herself to Noge, but does not involve herself more actively in his cause

    3. as Vili notes,

    “Ultimately, the idea of Yukie fighting for her gender doesn’t quite ring true to me. I’m not even sure if she is fighting for any ideal at all. To me, she seems to be fighting for nothing else than her dead husband, which is hardly a bold feminist statement.”

    I think that Yukie can can be both fighting for her right to determine what her own life will be, as well as her choices being ultimately influenced by her social conditioning-thus rather traditional or conservative in a social context.

    Yukie does transcend obligation in this way: her ability to replant crops destroyed by her neighbors is a remarkable personal triumph.. I admire that. It’s hard work, already done once, yet she does not give up. I don’t doubt that many would say “screw this, I am outta here”. I think I would.

    So, on a personal level (and yes, the personal is always political) Yukie’s story is triumph over adversity. No wonder the US censors liked it. The whole political razzmatazz is vaporous enough to be ungraspable. But personal determination and grit are things we can understand and that kind of resolve makes sense to the yanks, right?

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    Ugetsu

    I’m in the unusual position here of disagreeing with both Vili and Coco.

    Vili

    Ultimately, the idea of Yukie fighting for her gender doesn’t quite ring true to me. I’m not even sure if she is fighting for any ideal at all. To me, she seems to be fighting for nothing else than her dead husband, which is hardly a bold feminist statement

    Coco

    I think that Yukie can can be both fighting for her right to determine what her own life will be, as well as her choices being ultimately influenced by her social conditioning-thus rather traditional or conservative in a social context.

    I don’t see Yukie as either fighting for her dead husband, or fighting for the right to determine what her own life will be.

    When Yukie went into the fields, remember that this is exactly the opposite of what her husband wanted. He explicitly cut himself off from family ties to protect them from his actions and to ensure he was not distracted from his cause. He told Yukie this when he showed her the photograph of his parents. Noge was a political activist, not a community activist. He never displayed any interest in social activism and would probably have seen it as politically naive.

    And Yukie never fought for her right to determine what her own life would be. On the contrary, her parents were supportive of her decision to leave home for Tokyo and put no pressure on her to come back. Her mother asked her to come home after Noge’s death of course, but Yukie never had to ‘fight’ her mother in this, she simply chose another way. At no time in the film did Yukie ‘fight’ anyone but herself to determine what her own life would be, for the simple reason that she had no idea what she wanted. She only found it by accident, working side by side with her mother in law. I’m sure it was deliberate that her parents in the film we supportive of her. This isn’t an Ozu film, where all conflict is between duty and personal desire, the patriarch against his rebellious youngsters. This is a Kurosawa film, where the greatest conflict is always against yourself.

    To me, there are two elements to Yukies transformation. First, is the straightforward narrative attempt by Kurosawa to differentiate her ‘way’ from the other main characters in her story. I see it as quite deliberate that she followed a different path than any of the others.

    Secondly, what is crucial for Yukie is her search for meaning in her life. She admired and loved Noge, but never showed an interest in doing what he was doing (instead, just supporting him as his wife). Her confusion I think is illustrated by the ‘flower arranging’ scene. She is a rebel without a cause – smart enough to know that she cannot be a ‘good’ traditional Japanese lady. But not smart enough to be able to analyse her situation and see what direction she needs to take.

    As one critic said about Ikiru, the simple message is that the only meaning of life that matters is the meaning you yourself attach to it. The trick is to find that meaning. Yukie was searching for meaning in her life and she found it in the fields with the peasants.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: I’m in the unusual position here of disagreeing with both Vili and Coco.

    That’s great! It very possibly means that we all have something to learn from one another.

    Ugetsu: I’ve been mulling over Scandal quite a bit, and what has occurred to me is that of his six immediate post war films, at least three can be directly interpreted as being anti-American in tone in quite a specific way.

    I would make a distinction between sentiments that are against Americans, against the Occupation, or against some of the changes brought by the Occupation. What seems clear to me is that Kurosawa wasn’t ready to welcome everything that was done by the American Occupation, but at the same time I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he was openly anti-American, or even anti-Occupation. Criticising or questioning an aspect of something does not equal condemning it completely.

    Where some like Sorensen see anti-Americanism, I rather see Kurosawa pointing at specific things and going “hey, hang on a minute, is this really necessary in a Japanese context? Does this help us to construct a new and better post-war identity on which we can build a society whose members can exit peacefully not only with other nations, but also with each other? Or are we simply doing something because it’s the American way?”

    Ugetsu: In terms of assessing his films, I think this does lead me to the conclusion that the ‘ranking’ given by many of the critics are quite wrong, and that for example Scandal should be considered a major work.

    Since Kurosawa operated on many different levels, ranking his works seems very difficult to me. Because of its lack of focus here and there, I consider Scandal a flawed work, and in terms of technical brilliance or entertainment value, it is certainly not on the level of works like Seven Samurai. On the other hand, Scandal seems to be trying to communicate quite a lot — perhaps a little bit too much — which in turn makes it a more interesting film than, for instance, the aforementioned Seven Samurai (which, as I have mentioned earlier, may simply be due to my lack of understanding of the latter).

    I probably wouldn’t go as far as to call Scandal a major work, but I would certainly agree that there appears to much more to it than is commonly suggested.

    One thing that fascinates me about Kurosawa is his apparent inability to make completely perfect films. They are all flawed in some way or another. But they are usually flawed because he set the bar so high and attempted so much. And that is what makes his works especially interesting.

    To me, anyway.

    Coco: I think that Yukie can can be both fighting for her right to determine what her own life will be, as well as her choices being ultimately influenced by her social conditioning-thus rather traditional or conservative in a social context.

    That is certainly true.

    A couple of days ago I read Tamae Prindle’s essay from Post Script 20/1, in which she discusses women’s education, Yukie, and the other women in No Regrets for Our Youth. According to Prindle, the film revolves around the ideology of “good wife and wise mother“:

    The good wife and wise mother ideology emphasizes the gender difference … to find a position in the society for mothers, and to confirm the identity of the sex that can reproduce the next generation; that is, to give women a distinct space in the society so that they can bring their unique abilities into full play. On the other hand, it … gave women the illusion that they had the option of taking part in the job market. […] It only gave women the illusion that they were making a direct contribution to their society. (18, quoting Shuzuko Koyama, my emphases)

    In Prindle’s view, both Yukie’s and Noge’s mothers serve as prime examples of these “good wives and wise mothers” who support their families “as secondary figure” (16). Yukie’s mother is “totally marginalized by her husband and Japanese culture in general” (17), almost playing the role of a servant in the household, and never taking part in the political discourse which is going on in her home. Although Prindle points out that “a deconstructive reading of the film teaches us that Mrs. Yagihara is far from short on brains” (17), the problem is that she “has placed allegiance to a cultural norm called ‘femininity'” and therefore her life has become subjugated by “an ideological acceptance of women’s position as adjunct of the male”. (17) Prindle sees Noge’s mother as a “countrified version of Mrs. Yagihara. A major difference is her physical labor. … Her smallness next to her husband in the photograph Ryukichi carries in his pocket symbolizes her modesty.” (17-18).

    Although early on Yukie has ambitions for a truly independent life, also she eventually becomes a “good wife” when she marries Noge. Her intellect is then suppressed, shown to us for instance in the way that marriage takes

    words away from her. She cannot write to her parents about her marriage; she has no desire to talk to the police who arrest her in conjunction with Noge’s ‘espionage.’ She is even praised by Noge for having taken care of him without knowing or asking about his work. And symbolically, she starts wearing traditional Japanese clothes. It is rather doubtful that this is the way she wanted to ‘consume’ herself. This is more like being fit into the mold of a ‘good wife’ by an institution called marriage. Unknowingly, she is more thoroughly silenced than her mother or her mother-in-law. Only upon her return home after Noge’s death, does she regain her decision-making-capacity; she decides to live with Noge’s parents. But even this decision is triggered by her father who tells her to have pride in Noge’s work and in herself as his wife. (19)

    Yukie’s wordlessness continues in the village, and she continues to live in her dead husband’s shadow. The efforts of Yukie and Mrs Noge in the fields “unite towards the ideology of self-consuming ‘good wife’. So long as average men, like Mr Noge, are too hung up on ideas and principles to move, women have only themselves to collaborate with. The film beautifies women’s self-consuming labor as part of the good wife credo.” (20)

    Prindle does not see Yukie’s story as having a happy ending. The tears that we see in her eyes as she watches university students cross the little stream

    must come from the awareness that her new identity has veered away from what she had expected it to be. In the closing scene, Yukie climbs on to the back of a farm truck on a village road that takes her into the deep center background, facing the camera all the while. We have only to recall that this is how Noge was carted off to jail after a student demonstration. The truck (that carts things and people wholesale to one direction) symbolizes control, community, government, and to Yukie, men including her father and Noge. Without a unified center, but by muting individual viewpoints, men and the state feigned a solid self-identity. Yukie was among the majority who were muted or turned into a responsible and co-operative ‘good wife’ to their husbands and to the state. (21)

    What do you think?

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    I would make a distinction between sentiments that are against Americans, against the Occupation, or against some of the changes brought by the Occupation. What seems clear to me is that Kurosawa wasn’t ready to welcome everything that was done by the American Occupation, but at the same time I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he was openly anti-American, or even anti-Occupation. Criticising or questioning an aspect of something does not equal condemning it completely.

    I agree, and sorry for having perhaps oversimplified things by just referring to his views as ‘anti-American’. What I’m getting at is that I think there has been a tendency by the writers on Kurosawa to dismiss everything before Drunken Angel – and that maybe Kurosawa for his own reasons was happy to co-operate with this notion. But I think that underneath these films is a far more sophisticated view of what was happening at the time in Japan – and the key to these films (having regard to the censorship at the time), was that he left in many little ‘clues’ which a Japanese audience would have picked up about his true views. And while there is no doubt that he welcomed the removal of the pre-war establishment, his films were actually quite subversive regarding the Occupation. I mention Scandal because I think this is a good example of a film which (perhaps with Kurosawa’s encouragement) has been mis-read as something quite straightforward, when it is in fact a very sophisticated satire.

    One thing that fascinates me about Kurosawa is his apparent inability to make completely perfect films. They are all flawed in some way or another. But they are usually flawed because he set the bar so high and attempted so much. And that is what makes his works especially interesting.

    Absolutely! Even when they are a bit of a mess, they are a glorious mess, and this (for me) makes them far more interesting than the more polished works of his contemporaries. Great craftsmen make perfect jewels, but great artists make messy masterpieces. Kurosawa was an artist.

    That said, I do think that he made at least five ‘perfect’ films!

    What do you think?

    I haven’t read that book, but to be honest, it smacks of fitting the film into a pre-existing ideological viewpoint. I really don’t see that in the film and I think its anachronistic to approach the film in this manner.

    But once again, one of your comments has anticipated a post I’d intended to make – and has made me pause before posting it. I’ve been thinking over the question of whether Yukie is self consciously a feminist character (or to be precise, a character intended to represent a feminist viewpoint), or whether Yukie is a classic Kurosawa hero, who just happens to be a female character.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: That said, I do think that he made at least five ‘perfect’ films!

    You can’t leave us hanging like this! 😉

    Ugetsu: I haven’t read that book, but to be honest, it smacks of fitting the film into a pre-existing ideological viewpoint. I really don’t see that in the film and I think its anachronistic to approach the film in this manner.

    That was my first reaction too. After thinking about it a little more, however, Prindle’s essay does actually seems to fit the film. I am of course able to read the whole article, while you have to do with my attempts at summarising the argument.

    In any case, I don’t think that the argument is really anachronistic, since the issue of women’s rights was on the table in post-war Japan (to the best of my knowledge anyway), and the “good wife and wise mother” ideology apparently a part of that discourse. Whether or not it is an argument appropriate for this particular film, I’m not sure yet.

    In any case, I’ll be looking forward to your post! Possibly worth a new thread, that one?

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    You can’t leave us hanging like this!

    I’m not sure myself, I just came up with that number off the top of my head! But I would say that Rashomon (with the possible caveat of the ending), Seven Samurai, Ikiru, Yojimbo, High and Low, and Ran (with the possible caveat of the acting, which isn’t to everyones taste) come as close as reasonably possible to films without any significant fault. I think Yojimbo is the most ‘perfect’ of these – there are really no faults to that film in my opinion, its the greatest, leanest, and meanest film of its genre.

    since the issue of women’s rights was on the table in post-war Japan (to the best of my knowledge anyway), and the “good wife and wise mother” ideology apparently a part of that discourse.

    In this sense, I’d make a distinction between ‘womens rights’ as would have been understood at the time, and ‘feminism’ as understood in the modern sense. Different things, I would have said (arguable point, I know).

    But yes, it is a topic for a new thread, I’ll give it some thought, and post later.

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    Vili Maunula

    That’s an interesting list, Ugetsu. I’m surprised that Throne of Blood isn’t there! For me, if there is one perfect or near perfect Kurosawa film, that’s the one. Yojimbo, Red Beard and Record of a Living Being are the other ones that come closest in my estimate.

    Of course, I’m thinking “perfect” very much in terms of craftsmanship. My list of most interesting ones would be somewhat different.

    Ugetsu: I’d make a distinction between ‘womens rights’ as would have been understood at the time, and ‘feminism’ as understood in the modern sense. Different things, I would have said (arguable point, I know).

    An arguable point maybe, but definitely a good one.

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    cocoskyavitch

    For me, it is sometimes difficult to see the real “self” in Yukie. She is certainly a fiery character who does what she wants, but I find her story arc a little unconvincing, and as I never get to like or care for her, I cannot really feel for her hardships at the end of the film (in fact, she seems brainwashed to me — manipulated by the screenwriters…

    Vili, if we replaced “screenwriters” with cultural/historical moment, I would agree.

    Don’t make me pick 5 top Kurosawa films. I just might put Dersu Uzala in there…

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    I’m surprised that Throne of Blood isn’t there!

    I feel another thread coming on….

    I’m not sure why Throne of Blood didn’t occur to me. I think partially its because that like any Shakespeare interpretation, its just one of many possible interpretations, albeit an especially good one. I think it is without much doubt the most genuinely cinematic version of a Shakespeare play.

    But its also one of those Kurosawa films that I admire more than I love. I think that the downside of introducing Noh influences is that it restricts the possibilities of bringing psychological depth to the characters.

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    lawless

    Because it’s easy: my list of Kurosawa’s perfect films would include Seven Samurai (of course) and Yojimbo, with Ikiru, Throne of Blood, Ran, and The Lower Depths, of which I’m inordinately fond, just missing the cut for various reasons. Keep in mind, I haven’t seen The Quiet Duel, I Live in Fear, The Bad Sleep Well, High and Low, Red Beard, Dersu Urzala, Kagemusha, or anything after Ran yet. (Or The Most Beautiful or Sanshiro Sugata II either, but that’s probably beside the point.)

    I eventually will post what will probably turn out to be a massive comment to respond to everyone else’s comments above.

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    lawless

    Here’s my massive and rambling response to the preceding comments.

    Addressing Vili’s initial post: I don’t consider No Regrets a propaganda film, but it sometimes comes off as heavy-handed and didactic. I’m not sure how much of that is due to it political slant and how much is due to a failure of storytelling. As mentioned in this thread about One Wonderful Sunday as a feminist movie, No Regrets starts out as a romance that turns into a story of family and community (and even national) reconciliation.

    Unlike Vili, I find the first third or so of the movie, with all those placards, newspaper headlines, and protests, to be the most didactic. Not everything in the first third is didactic, though, and I consider the middle part the most unsuccessful part of the film, especially after Yukie moves in with Noge. (See below for questions about whether they ever actually marry; there seems to be some confusion about that.) This is probably because that’s the point at which I lost patience with Yukie and liked her the least. More about that later.

    Outside of the boldness and initiative he showed by picking Yukie up to help her across the stream, I found Noge an annoying, overbearing know-it-all early on and wondered what the attraction was. He’s right when he says that the faculty’s plan to force Professor Yagihara’s reinstatement by resigning en masse won’t work, but he’s so overbearing and uses such stilted Marxist jargon, which I suspect is not an accident of translation, but how it comes across in Japanese as well, that he put my back up. He reminds me of overly earnest Weather Underground/SDS radicals from the 60s who manipulated their female followers into helping them blow up buildings and hold up armored cars, with predictable results. Later, we find out that Noge is more chivalrous than that — possibly because of cultural differences, possibly because he’s more principled than they are — but during his student days, Noge strikes me as a humorless radical who eats, sleeps, and drinks politics and nothing else.

    Vili wrote:

    And what I find even more interesting is the film’s bold acknowledgement of its own didacticism, and the argument that beauty without meaning is not only meaningless, but also quite worthless. This point is made in what is perhaps the strongest statement about reason and logic in arts to be found in any of Kurosawa’s works:

    Yukie: Let’s not talk about this. It’s boring. Unlike you, I don’t think the world runs solely on logic. There must be more beautiful things, more pleasant things. Itokawa, you want to hear some nice music? Come on!

    Noge: That’s the trouble with you. Why don’t you listen to what people say? All you know of life are the pretty scenes outside your window. Surrounded by your father’s fawning students. Maybe you need a slap in the face to grow up. You ridicule logic, but beauty and pleasure not founded on reason are mere bubbles. (around 00:09:45 – 00:10:45, Eclipse translation).

    Let me deconstruct those statements. While Noge may be criticizing beauty without meaning, that’s not what he actually says. He speaks of reason, not meaning, and while this may be an issue of translation, in English, the two terms aren’t synonymous. His philosophy of aesthetics sounds a lot like Soviet realism: only didactic art — art that improves, criticizes, or makes a point — is worthwhile. I disagree wholeheartedly. Beauty isn’t always logical; one of the prime functions of art is to access the unconscious and to stimulate us to make connections that aren’t logical. I agree with Yukie: “Unlike you, I don’t think the world runs solely on logic.” And she’s right; how many times do we do things for emotional, not logical, reasons?

    With the possible exception of Coco, everyone else who has commented accepts that Noge is criticizing superficial, frivolous beauty despite his actual words. Think of One Wonderful Sunday. Art — in this case, Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony — lifts Masako and Yuzo’s spirts and enables them to think of something other than their economic situation for a time. That movie presents art, or at least quality art, as intrinsically beneficial on its own merits without regard to whether it addresses people’s everyday problems. That seems at odds with Noge’s position. In fact, I’m beginning to think of One Wonderful Sunday as the anti-No Regrets — a Hegelian antithesis to No Regrets’ thesis.

    The tone of Noge’s remarks contain such contempt, with an undercurrent of “you’re just a silly girl and don’t understand these things,” that it makes me seethe. Yukie is saying that she’s fed up with hearing about nothing but politics. I don’t interpret her as saying “don’t ever talk about politics,” but rather “it is boring when politics is all I ever hear about. There’s more to life than that.” I agree wholeheartedly with that, and if I were in her shoes, I too would tire of only ever hearing about politics.

    If you were Yukie, and one of your father’s students suggested you should be slapped in the face for your ignorance, you’d be put out about it and go have a civilized tantrum by loudly playing a bombastic piece of music with imperialist overtones. (The specific piece she’s playing is Great Gate of Kiev.) She is probably also motivated by loyalty to her father, seeing as Noge just got finished saying, in essence, that his efforts will all come to naught. Noge expects her to just take criticism of her father lying down?

    It’s possible that Noge’s trying to say something I would agree with, but he phrases it so broadly and so offensively that I tuned him out. It’s the equivalent of Internet trolling; often, there’s a point underneath the rancor, but all anyone remembers is the shouting. The one valid point he makes is that Yukie is happy to be surrounded by her father’s fawning students, but that just underlines my contention that the story of the first third of the movie is a romance with political overtones.

    As for Vili’s reaction to the last half of the movie, I think that’s a reaction to its resemblance to Soviet propaganda glorifying workers and manual labor. I concede that the images are likely the same. I don’t know for sure because the only Soviet filmmaker I’m familiar with is Eisenstein. But while Kurosawa may be appropriating propaganda images, their function here is to tell the story of Yukie’s abandonment of her middle-class status and finally finding work she can throw herself into.

    Ugetsu said:

    I thought the scene before his arrest where Noge says simply ‘arigato’ to her face was quite touching – it seemed to be saying that he was fully aware that his decision to protect her by not involving her fully in the plot was putting her in an impossible position – making her be the obedient Japanese wife, when she wanted more and it seems, he wanted her to be more, but felt that it was too dangerous for her.

    Yukie wanted more; I’m not sure if she agreed that participation in Noge’s work was too dangerous or whether, as I suspect, Noge made the decision for her, thus denying her agency. See my previous remarks as to why this is not a film with a feminist message.

    Ugetsu also said:

    I made the comment earlier in another context (Seven Samurai) that the influence of Soviet film makers on AK was at least as great, if not greater, than the Western, but that most western (or specifically American) writers, simply aren’t familiar enough with films from that period to recognise the influences. I’m not sure if this is unfair or not, but the more I watch the films the more I see the Russian influence (having said that, my knowledge of Soviet/Russian film is quite minimal).

    As mentioned above, Eisenstein is the only Soviet director with whom I’m familiar – I’ve seen Potemkin and Ivan the Terrible, and I don’t see his influence here. What Soviet films or directors are you referring to?

    Unlike Vili, I don’t have a problem with Hara’s performance. Yukie’s portrayal mid-movie, where she weeps while sewing Noge’s kimono (is that a wedding kimono?) and watching a movie while Noge laughs (talk about role reversals from the beginning of the movie) seems inconsistent to me, but that has to be attributed to the director, not the actress. Unlike Coco, I like the montage of her in various positions against the door to her room, and unlike Ugetsu, I think she pulled off the schoolgirl look well. (I assumed that she was much the same age as her father’s students.) I agree with Vili that she looked a little blank when she was working the field, but attributed that to tiredness. I suspect Ms. Hara may have found all that use of farming implements exhausting.

    Coco said:

    In some way Kurosawa shot himself or the socialist message in the foot-it is really her separateness from the group-her individual character that is developed at the very end of the film in her persistence and indefatigable attitude toward her husband’s parents. She will succeed by sheer force of will and her own strength!

    I feel the same way.

    Vili said:

    Finally, Sorensen notes that there was additionally also the case of Ichiro Hatoyama:The last piece to complete the picture of the occupiers as hypocrites, who did not practice what they preached with regards to political freedom, was the foregrounding of the former Minister of Education Ichiro Hatoyama in the opening text of the original print. As leader and founder of the Liberal Party in April 1946, Hatoyama was purged by SCAP on the day before he was to become the first freely elected postwar Prime Minsiter of new democratic Japan, 4 May 1946. The reasons given for his purge were, among other things, his role in the Kyoto University Incident in 1933. … Consequently we may speculate if Kurosawa’s explicit mention of Hatoyama as the bad guy of the Kyoto University Incident made the audience assign guilt to the man … or whether it was understood as a reminder of the injustice suffered by the recently purged teachers as well as the first freely elected postwar premier at the hands of hypocritical occupiers. (232)

    Is Hatoyama mentioned in the Criterion print? I didn’t notice his name in the subtitles, but haven’t had the time to look at the Japanese.

    He’s not mentioned by name, but there are many references, mostly in newspaper headlines, to the actions of the Minister of Education who made the decision to suspend Yagihara in the first place. I believe he’s the man shown playing golf in one quick scene.

    Coco said:

    I think that Yukie can can be both fighting for her right to determine what her own life will be, as well as her choices being ultimately influenced by her social conditioning-thus rather traditional or conservative in a social context.

    Yukie does transcend obligation in this way: her ability to replant crops destroyed by her neighbors is a remarkable personal triumph.. I admire that. It’s hard work, already done once, yet she does not give up. I don’t doubt that many would say “screw this, I am outta here”. I think I would.

    So, on a personal level (and yes, the personal is always political) Yukie’s story is triumph over adversity. No wonder the US censors liked it. The whole political razzmatazz is vaporous enough to be ungraspable. But personal determination and grit are things we can understand and that kind of resolve makes sense to the yanks, right?

    I can only nod in agreement. Like Coco, I can’t help but interpret the movie from a feminist perspective, given who the main and POV character is, put myself in her place, and ask myself how I’d feel and react if I were her, trying to allow for cultural differences. That’s much of the reason why I think the story of the beginning of the film is a romance: that’s what it is from Yukie’s perspective even if that wasn’t Kurosawa’s main objective.

    As a result, I disagree with Ugestu, who said:

    I don’t see Yukie as either fighting for her dead husband, or fighting for the right to determine what her own life will be.

    For one thing, her mother opposed her leaving Kyoto and wanted her to stay home for good after the war was over rather than return to the village. Her father gave his blessing to her leaving home only after questioning her about it. She did show an interest in what Noge was doing; I take it that’s what she was referring to when she talked about work she could sink her teeth into. And I see the flower arranging scene as symbolic of her pining for Noge; note that when Itokawa comes for dinner, her flower arrangement is equally sad and droopy, whereas when she’s living with Noge, her flower arrangements are upright. She’s never so contradictory, or miserable, as when she and Noge are together; there’s one scene of bliss and many of sorrow and despair, as pointed out in Vili’s post here.

    That takes me to my last point: were Yukie and Noge really married? It remains unclear until she returns to Kyoto after Noge’s death, when her father refers to her as Noge’s wife and his parents are referred to as her in-laws. There’s no wedding scene or overt reference to a wedding; when he interrogates her, Takashi Shimura calls him her lover. But on the other hand, the later use of the term “wife” is pretty clearcut.

    Is that a glitch of translation? And what was the news that Yukie felt she couldn’t adequately explain to her father in a letter –that she was living with Noge without benefit of marriage, or that they had married? I interpreted the kimono she was sewing to be one Noge wore when they married and the news to be about their marriage, but the evidence seems contradictory. Anyone have a clue?

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    Vili Maunula

    Thanks for you views, lawless! I don’t really have much to respond to your comments, partly for having I think already done my best to explain my views earlier in the thread (and other threads on the film), but also because everything that you write here makes sense to me, so there isn’t much to comment.

    Thank you also for going into details about Noge’s remark about beauty and reason. It is, I think, one of the central arguments of the film, whether or not it was something that Kurosawa himself believed in, or would later believe in. Somehow, when reading your comment and re-reading the complete thread here, I came to think of 24 Eyes, which we watched as a companion piece to No Regrets. Perhaps I will be ostracised for saying this, but I think that particular film was more “empty bubbles” than was really necessary.

    You raise a very interesting question regarding the kimono and the marriage. Would it be possible for you to provide us an exact time of the kimono sewing scene? While I remember the scene I couldn’t locate it with a cursory scan of the film. In any case, would there be reasons for the two not marrying, though?

    The point about the flower arrangements is something that I had never noticed. You have a good eye! And perhaps this is already obvious to everyone, but let me just say that I think that the flower arranging scene, which ends with three flowers floating in the dish, refers to the romantic triangle that Yukie is at that point trying to deal with.

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    lawless

    Thanks, Vili, I’m glad you found my remarks useful and sensible, especially since I felt like my reaction to the film was different from everyone else’s and I picked up on some things no one else had commented about. It’s nice to know I’m not just a voice crying in the wilderness.

    I wish I could help you with the timing of that scene, but I can’t, for two reasons: I have a very basic DVD player that doesn’t display elapsed time and I already sent the disc back to Netflix and am in the middle of watching It Happened One Night. I can’t think of why they wouldn’t marry other than possibly to protect Yukie from reprucussions for his activism. Even if they thought it was likely he’d be caught and executed soon, I’d think that they’d still want to marry, although from an economic perspective, she was probably better off as the daughter of a middle-class, though unemployed professor, than the widow of an executed radical whose parents were farmers.

    It hadn’t occurred to me that the three flowers floating in the dish might symbolize Yukie, Noge, and Itokawa. I thought of her as expressing her frustration with her situation by pulling the flower apart, showing how she herself was being constrained by circumstances and pulled apart, without thoughts of further symbolism. I also thought it might be an implicit commentary on the emptiness of such frivolous pursuits when more important things were going on the world.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    As mentioned above, Eisenstein is the only Soviet director with whom I’m familiar – I’ve seen Potemkin and Ivan the Terrible, and I don’t see his influence here. What Soviet films or directors are you referring to?

    Unfortunately, I can’t give you any precise answers to this! Its a long time since I’ve seen any Soviet films, and most were from a later period – Tarkovsky and Kalatozov mainly. Its more of a feeling I get when I watch them, and the impression I get from my reading of Kurosawa’s autobiography. I think there is a general tendency to see Japanese films as a dialectic between the west and Japan, but we forget that for much of the early 20th Century, films from the Soviet Union would have been ‘closer’ culturally and in terms of availability for quite a lot of the period. Judging from The Idiot in particular, I think Kurosawa felt a great affinity for Russia. I think this is a very under researched aspect of his work. Unfortunately, my own knowledge of the topic isn’t broad enough to say much more than that.

    That takes me to my last point: were Yukie and Noge really married? It remains unclear until she returns to Kyoto after Noge’s death, when her father refers to her as Noge’s wife and his parents are referred to as her in-laws. There’s no wedding scene or overt reference to a wedding; when he interrogates her, Takashi Shimura calls him her lover. But on the other hand, the later use of the term “wife” is pretty clearcut.

    I was a bit puzzled on this point too. I wonder if again, this is an example of where the film was chopped about so much at script stage that we are seeing inconsistencies popping up. It is certainly clear later in the film that they had married, but it seems implied earlier that there were lovers. Perhaps there is a cultural thing at work here – my understanding of the period (and I may stand corrected on this), is that the formal marriage wasn’t all that important in Japan traditionally – it was more of a final step after all the family arrangements had been made. So whether or not they actually went through a marriage ceremony may not have been as big a deal from the point of view of wartime Japanese. If they were together, and the parents didn’t object, then they were effectively married (again, I’m speculating on little evidence here).

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: I’m glad you found my remarks useful and sensible, especially since I felt like my reaction to the film was different from everyone else’s and I picked up on some things no one else had commented about. It’s nice to know I’m not just a voice crying in the wilderness.

    It’s always good to see different takes and approaches!

    lawless: It hadn’t occurred to me that the three flowers floating in the dish might symbolize Yukie, Noge, and Itokawa. I thought of her as expressing her frustration with her situation by pulling the flower apart, showing how she herself was being constrained by circumstances and pulled apart, without thoughts of further symbolism.

    I think that the symbolism was intentionally there for the audience, but also that Yukie had nothing to do with it, and possibly didn’t even realise that it was there.

    Like Ugetsu, I don’t claim to know much about Soviet cinema and only have a hunch that Soviet film was more influential on Kurosawa than is generally acknowledged. Prince does actually draw a direct link between Kurosawa and Eisenstein, suggesting for instance that “much of [Kurosawa’s] work may be regarded as an attempt to work out and extend the implications of Eisenstein’s theory and practice of montage”, although also acknowledging that “Kurosawa has never exhibited any of the ‘anxiety of influence’ that one would expect from a filmmaker conscious of working from the forms and traditions of another. Instead, he very quickly found his own voice in film and displayed his own stylistic synthesis of fluid camera movement and montage cutting.” (21)

    There is also something in the fluidity of Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera, and other Soviet films of the era, which make me think of Kurosawa. Similarly, the heaviness of many of those films seems familiar. But I have to stress that the actual number of Soviet films that I have seen from the 1920s and 30s is extremely limited.

    Later on, Kurosawa and Tarkovsky were of course in good terms with one another, and I think declared mutual influence.

    Having said that, not many Soviet directors actually feature in Kurosawa’s top 100 films (which was not actually compiled by Kurosawa, but his daughter).

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    Having said that, not many Soviet directors actually feature in Kurosawa’s top 100 films (which was not actually compiled by Kurosawa, but his daughter).

    Interesting list, I hadn’t seen that before. I note that It Happened One Night isn’t on it!

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    lawless

    Ugestu, Vili – thanks for the info on Soviet directors. Wasn’t Tarkovsky’s contact with Kurosawa referenced in an article that someone (Vili, I think) posted a link to on this site? I don’t know anything about Tarkovsky outside of that, nor am I familiar with any of the other Soviet film directors mentioned. As Vili says, “we forget that for much of the early 20th Century, films from the Soviet Union would have been ‘closer’ culturally and in terms of availability for quite a lot of the period.”

    Vili – I was so wrapped up on seeing things from Yukie‘s POV that I didn’t consider the possibility that Kurosawa included three flowers as directorial symbolism.

    Maybe the word “inspiration” would be a better one than “influence” to describe Kurosawa’s relationship with other directors. He certainly took what he learned from others, whether directly, as in the case of his mentor, or indirectly, and used it for his own ends.

    I saw that list of top100 films last year around the time of the centennial. It’s an interesting list. If I remember correctly, both parts of Ivan the Terrible are on it. Potemkin might be on it as well.

    As for the script, I wonder if that scene was in the original but had a different ending — i.e., Yukie agreed to show him Noge‘s grave. It just seems so didactic and unforgiving, which is contrary to POV characters’ stance in most of his other movies, and reads more like something the union committee might insist on. It would also please the censors more to have an open condemnation of collaboration instead of acknowledgment that Itokawa the character, as opposed to Itokawa the prosecutor, wished to honor his classmate and former friend’s memory.

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    Ugetsu

    lawless

    As for the script, I wonder if that scene was in the original but had a different ending — i.e., Yukie agreed to show him Noge’s grave. It just seems so didactic and unforgiving, which is contrary to POV characters’ stance in most of his other movies, and reads more like something the union committee might insist on. It would also please the censors more to have an open condemnation of collaboration instead of acknowledgment that Itokawa the character, as opposed to Itokawa the prosecutor, wished to honor his classmate and former friend’s memory.

    I wonder if the reason for the scene was that there was a belated decision (by whom, I don’t know) that it was important for Yukie (as the films heroine) to unambiguously reject Itokawa’s way – i.e. compromise with the power structures of the war years. Perhaps there was a feeling that Itokawa had been portrayed too sympathetically for much of the film, and hence the film would appear too sympathetic to collaborators. This is just speculation of course.

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    lawless

    With censors and committees like the one Kurosawa had to deal with, who knows? But in my view, Itokawa isn’t portrayed all that sympathetically — Noge becomes more and more thoughtful and iconic, and Itokawa becomes close to slimy; it’s not clear if what he says to Yukie at dinner in Tokyo is meant as a warning or a threat, and it’s not like he does much to help, in the end, because to try to do anything more would be to stick his neck out too far.

    I thought him the better suitor than Noge at first because he comes across as more thoughtful and understanding and (shallow much) better-looking, but surviving seems more important to him than principle. What he says to Yukie in that scene where she refuses to show him Noge’s grave indicates that he thinks Noge was wrong all along, not just that he disagreed with his tactics. I do respect him, however, for not remonstrating when Yukie tells him that life with him would be peaceful but boring, whereas life with Noge would be exciting, and for bringing Noge with him for dinner despite Yukie’s warning.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    But in my view, Itokawa isn’t portrayed all that sympathetically — Noge becomes more and more thoughtful and iconic, and Itokawa becomes close to slimy

    You think so? Its funny how we look at the same film and come to very different conclusions! I thought he was always quite sympathetic – surprisingly so, through the film I was expecting him to be the sell-out and traitor, I thought he was being set up that way. But its been a while since I saw the film, I must have another look over Easter to see if the film seems different second time around.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – Sorry, I should probably have said Itokawa doesn’t strike me as all that sympathetic a character. Some of my reaction to him probably has as much to do with my own beliefs and biases as the movie.

    At first blush, when I watched the movie in a somewhat fragmented form — the first half hour or so in one sitting, the rest a day later — Itokawa seemed more sympathetic to me. Then when I rewatched nearly the entire film (fast forwarding through a few parts), I noticed how less open and honest Itokawa looks and acts as time goes on; he becomes, and looks, more devious and manipulative as he’s further enmeshed in the system and seems to be subtly hitting on or playing with Yukie, especially in the scene where he takes her out for dinner in Tokyo. I thought I picked up on an undercurrent of “I may be married, but I might be interested in you as a mistress” there; however, I could be completely imagining it.

    Primarily my problem with Itokawa him is that while he’s often more polite and thoughtful than Noge, he seems not to stand for anything. He goes from being as committed to fighting for academic freedom as Noge to someone who reproves Yukie’s father for providing free legal advice while on suspension. He isn’t willing to stick his neck out for Noge, and I got the impression that helping get Yukie out of jail was the most he could do and remain safe; helping her could be pitched as helping an old friend, whereas helping Noge would be throwing his lot in with a traitor. Saying that Noge took the wrong path sounds an awful lot like saying he was wrong to oppose the war, not just wrong in the tactics he used. So Itokawa did a 180 degree turnaround, and neither of the likely explanations — lack of conviction in the first place, or pragmatism trumping belief — is terribly flattering to him in light of the film’s conclusion that history has judged that Noge was right.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    So Itokawa did a 180 degree turnaround, and neither of the likely explanations — lack of conviction in the first place, or pragmatism trumping belief — is terribly flattering to him in light of the film’s conclusion that history has judged that Noge was right.

    I agree that the film is not flattering to him. I think a lot of the way we approach the character is to see what his role is in the film. I think we can interpret him as showing the one of two paths Yukie could take romantically (and, by extension, in the way she would live her life). In this manner, he is a romantic foil for Yukie.

    Another way to look at his character is to see his role both as an admonishment to the audience, and an examination of the ‘proper, Japanese’ way of living in a repressive society. I think that the overwhelming majority of the films audience would have seen themselves in Itogawa. Someone who could see that the 1930’s government was rotten and dangerous, and was torn between following a path of rebellion or of giving in to the overwhelming societal and economic pressures of the time and simply allowed themselves to get carried along with the tide. This of course wasn’t, and isn’t, unique to Japan, but in such a conformist society those pressures must have been overwhelming. Only a tiny minority would have had the courage of Noge to fight against it. I think the purpose of Itokawa as a character was to present a realistic depiction of a typical, liberal middle class Japanese man of the 1930’s and see how he was shaped by forces greater than him, and his lack of courage in his own convictions.

    And perhaps the confusion in the final Act represents a confusion among the film makers about where to take him. I can almost imagine the arguments over the script – ‘do we show him to be a wretched failure as an admonishment to his lack of courage? Do we show Yukie forgiving him as a way of showing the way forward for Japan?‘ I suspect that the arguments were unresolved, hence the incoherent scenes involving him at the end.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: As Vili says, “we forget that for much of the early 20th Century, films from the Soviet Union would have been ‘closer’ culturally and in terms of availability for quite a lot of the period.”

    That was actually again Ugetsu! It is flattering of course that you people keep putting Ugetsu’s words into my mouth. 🙂

    lawless: Saying that Noge took the wrong path sounds an awful lot like saying he was wrong to oppose the war, not just wrong in the tactics he used.

    But did Noge actually accomplish anything? Did his actions in any way influence the society around him or the outcome of the war?

    If not, then I suppose that the question is whether it is better to live knowing that you have not fully stood up for your believes, or to die in an ultimately vain effort to fight for them?

    I don’t think that there is a right answer here (and certainly the issue is much more complicated that I suggest), but can we really condemn Itokawa for not sacrificing himself for his beliefs? Don’t we all do it when we complain about this or that ill in society but then don’t actually do anything concrete to right those perceived wrongs? Where should we draw the line here between cowardice and sensible action?

    As you may gather from these rhetoric questions, I don’t find Itokawa all that unsympathetic, and I actually like him as a character more than I like Noge. I agree with Ugetsu, when he writes that:

    Ugetsu: I think the purpose of Itokawa as a character was to present a realistic depiction of a typical, liberal middle class Japanese man of the 1930’s and see how he was shaped by forces greater than him, and his lack of courage in his own convictions.

    I think that had I lived at the time, I would have been one of the Itokawas, rather than a Noge.

    Mind you, this doesn’t mean that I don’t consider Noge’s actions admirable.

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    Ugetsu

    Vili

    But did Noge actually accomplish anything? Did his actions in any way influence the society around him or the outcome of the war?

    I think this is a key question. It seems quite deliberate that Noge’s death was not particularly glorious, honorable or even a moral victory in some ways. He just disappeared and died off-screen, we don’t even know for sure if he was murdered or died from torture or even killed himself. But then again, Itokawa’s only ‘success’ was in ameliorating the malignity of the legal system of the time, and that in only a tiny way. His only ‘success’ was to survive and look after his mother – a very small thing in the context of the horrors of the period.

    I think this is one of the most admirable aspects of the film – any heroism shown is only moral heroism. Nobody really changed things, and as such it is a very realistic depiction of life under an authoritarian regime. To go back to my suggestion some time ago that there was a deliberate attempt to show the different ‘ways’ of opposing an authoritarian regime – the intellectual liberalism of the professor; the radical action of Noge; the conformism with a conscience of Itokawa; and the social action of Yukie, none are show as succeeding, with just a glimmer of hope offered that Yukies way might actually make a real difference.

    As such, perhaps it offers another interpretation of the title as we were discussing in another thread – it is suggesting that you cannot have any realistic chance of changing the world – the best you can do is to know that at least you tried – hence ‘no regrets’.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: To go back to my suggestion some time ago that there was a deliberate attempt to show the different ‘ways’ of opposing an authoritarian regime

    The more I think of this, the more it indeed seems like the film systematically included these characters as case examples. Perhaps you are right.

    Ugetsu: you cannot have any realistic chance of changing the world – the best you can do is to know that at least you tried – hence ‘no regrets’.

    Could well be!

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – I agree that Itokawa showed the dilemma of the people who lived through Japanese militarism, didn’t necessarily agree with it, but took a live and let live perspective on it. In a society as conformist as Japan was, and in many ways still is, to do otherwise would run against the grain and be profoundly unJapanese.

    Vili – But was Itokawa forced to become a prosecutor? Were there no legal positions outside of the government? He not only didn’t stand firm in his beliefs, but he joined the very establishment he criticized earlier knowing he might have to prosecute people who held beliefs he had once espoused. That looks to me like hypocrisy or weak-mindedness. I would find him more sympathetic if he just faded into the woodwork, but he didn’t.

    As I’ve admitted above, much of my response is probably due to my own beliefs and experiences. My paternal grandmother came to the US from Korea as a political refugee from the Japanese occupation. (My paternal grandfather seems to have been an economic, rather than a political, refugee.) My maternal grandfather may have come to the US from Ireland to escape British oppression; rumor has it that he was a member of the IRA when it was still mainly a freedom fighting organization rather than a terrorist organization. I lived through the turmoil of the late 60s, when riots, assassinations, and protests against the war in Vietnam were common. I was one of three students who wore black armbands to protest the war on Moratorium Day (I was in 8th grade; it was probably 1970); I was also, for a time, a Black Panther sympathizer until I concluded that violence was not the answer.

    But most of all, the question that haunted me when I was younger, and the reason for my interest in politics and, later, law, was how to prevent oppression and tyranny in the name of patriotism (common in the 60s) or security (common now). How can such acts as the Holocaust or the internment of the Japanese in the US during WWII be prevented? My conclusion was the same as this quote attributed to Edmund Burke:

    The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

    I agree that Noge didn’t have much effect on things other than to stand up and die for a cause. (I’m assuming he was executed or died from torture rather than committing suicide; suicide doesn’t seem in character for him.)

    Ugetsu wrote:

    I think this is one of the most admirable aspects of the film – any heroism shown is only moral heroism. Nobody really changed things, and as such it is a very realistic depiction of life under an authoritarian regime. To go back to my suggestion some time ago that there was a deliberate attempt to show the different ‘ways’ of opposing an authoritarian regime – the intellectual liberalism of the professor; the radical action of Noge; the conformism with a conscience of Itokawa; and the social action of Yukie, none are show as succeeding, with just a glimmer of hope offered that Yukies way might actually make a real difference.

    I agree with you (and Vili) that the movie tries to look at things from many perspectives and not settle for easy answers. Yet I disagree that none of the avenues is shown as succeeding or as better than the other. Maybe it’s due to my identification with Yukie, but I see the film as showing that her way, which is more one-on-one and individual, bore more fruit than any other. She converted both her in-laws and the village where they lived from bitterness and prejudice against Noge to at the very least admiration of her and a recognition that maybe Noge had never been the enemy and traitor to both the country and the lot of the farmers that they’d thought he was.

    I see her stubborn, dogged persistence in the face of insults as a form of passive resistance a la Gandhi and Martin Luther King — in fact, what she does reminds me very much of such things as the four black students chosen to integrate the Little Rock, Arkansas public schools marching past a hostile crowd to go to school. They were coached not to retaliate and to hold their heads high exactly the way Yukie did. Yet the movie predates these acts by a decade or more!

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    But was Itokawa forced to become a prosecutor? Were there no legal positions outside of the government? He not only didn’t stand firm in his beliefs, but he joined the very establishment he criticized earlier knowing he might have to prosecute people who held beliefs he had once espoused. That looks to me like hypocrisy or weak-mindedness. I would find him more sympathetic if he just faded into the woodwork, but he didn’t.

    This is a very good point, although I think we’d need to know more about how the Japanese justice system worked at the time to know what sort of options he had at the time. As we saw in our discussion of Scandal, it seems that the notion of an independent lawyer acting for ordinary people was something of a novelty for post-war Japan. My (very tenuous) understanding of the role of a prosecutor in pre-war Japan is that he was more akin to an examining magistrate (of the sort you find under the Napoleonic legal code in Europe) than an American style prosecutor. I could be wrong on that.

    I see her stubborn, dogged persistence in the face of insults as a form of passive resistance a la Gandhi and Martin Luther King — in fact, what she does reminds me very much of such things as the four black students chosen to integrate the Little Rock, Arkansas public schools marching past a hostile crowd to go to school. They were coached not to retaliate and to hold their heads high exactly the way Yukie did. Yet the movie predates these acts by a decade or more!

    Again, a good point and a great comparison. I think an element of the film that upset left wingers at the time was that Yukie didn’t overtly stand up to Government power (as Noge did), but stood up against the ignorance of the peasantry, which in a Marxist perspective is the exact opposite of what she should have been doing. In many ways, in locating the core of the problem as being not evil people at the top, but of an unthinking and reactionary populace, Kurosawa was taking I think quite a radical line at the time, one that would not necessarily have gone down well with either the radical left or the Occupation Authority. In one way though, this may have been forced upon Kurosawa, as Yukie could not be seen to be acting against the post war government, and clearly it would have been historically inaccurate to show her taking successful action against the wartime authorities, so there was only one real way for her to go.

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    lawless

    Ugetsu – Noge himself thought that what he was doing ultimately benefited people like his parents, presumably by freeing them from oppression (possibly including economic oppression) by a repressive and militaristic regime. A less militarized Japan would be less likely to send its young men off to war, for example, and thus women and the elderly would not be left to cope with all the planting and harvesting. On the other hand, having that responsibility was empowering as well; having the young men back would likely reinforce traditional gender roles that wartime labor shortages may have undermined.

    The peasantry may be reactionary, but common ownership and communal effort is probably more easily accomplished among farmers than among the proletariat. After studying Marx and Marxism in college — I wrote an honors thesis comparing the political philosophy of Marx, Proudhon, and Bakunin — I came to the conclusion that Marx’s main contribution was to elevate dialectic, economics, and materialism (i.e., the study of how material factors such as geography, industrial development, etc. affect societal development — for example, how Japan’s status as an island with little arable land affects agriculture, trade, and even such things as the cult of politeness). He was a near-total failure as a political analyst. He underestimates how easily the proletariat can be bought off (cue Bismarck and the concept of unemployment compensation) and aspires to become better off, or in his terms, bourgeois.

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    Vili Maunula

    lawless: But was Itokawa forced to become a prosecutor? Were there no legal positions outside of the government?

    That is a good point, and perhaps something that I have not considered enough.

    lawless: [Yukie] converted both her in-laws and the village where they lived from bitterness and prejudice against Noge to at the very least admiration of her and a recognition that maybe Noge had never been the enemy and traitor to both the country and the lot of the farmers that they’d thought he was.

    That is also a good point. However, do you think that it was she who converted them, or did they change their opinion once the war ended and they were told that people like Noge were heroes? I kind of get the impression that the latter happened, although the film does not really dwell on this.

    Like Ugetsu, I feel that the film isn’t entirely kind in its portrayal of the farmers.

    lawless: I see her stubborn, dogged persistence in the face of insults as a form of passive resistance a la Gandhi and Martin Luther King

    Once again, this is an interesting comparison. Personally, as I have mentioned before I have trouble really accepting the last act of the film, and to me Yukie comes across as slightly mad or feverish or otherwise out of her mind, which prevents me from really comparing her persistence with the likes of Gandhi. But there certainly is the kind of passive resistance in her actions — a personality type quite common with Kurosawa’s heroes, I would say.

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    lawless

    Vili – I think a lot of the differences in our responses to the last act of the film can be attributed to our differing backgrounds and when we grew up. As someone who came of age in the US in the Sixties and Seventies, at the height of unrest over civil rights, the Vietnam War, and various political assassinations, I can definitely see how Yukie could have developed as she did. In some ways, she’s a less radical version of women like Bernardine Dohrn and Kathy Boudin, former Weather Underground fugitives, and Angela Davis of the Black Panthers, all of whom differed from her (and Noge) in that they believed in the armed struggle against capitalism and colonialist oppression.

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    Ugetsu

    Lawless

    I can definitely see how Yukie could have developed as she did. In some ways, she’s a less radical version of women like Bernardine Dohrn and Kathy Boudin, former Weather Underground fugitives, and Angela Davis of the Black Panthers, all of whom differed from her (and Noge) in that they believed in the armed struggle against capitalism and colonialist oppression.

    In some ways, I think of Yukie as differing from those sorts of activists in that she never gave much indication of being interested in specific ideas. Yukie never seemed to be an ideologue, which most ‘driven’ activists tend to be. Noge, of course was one, even if his politics are only indirectly indicated. I don’t know whether the difference is more a cultural one – that in Japan people are less inclined to state their beliefs clearly – or whether it was considered better to just associate Yukie with radicalism in general, without being very specific about what that radicalism involved.

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