Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

Twenty four eyes: Oishi vs. Yukie. Reality vs idealised vision of a woman during war?

  •   link

    Ugetsu

    Twenty Four Eyes and No Regrets for our Youth are very different films in theme and approach, but they have one obvious feature in common – they both follow a female character through the difficult years before and after the war. In Twenty Four Eyes we follow a young woman (Miss Oishi) from 1929, when she is an eager young teacher, to the immediate post war period, where, although in her early forties, is visibly an old woman, largely defeated in spirit. In No Regrets we follow Yukie in her journey from carefree young woman to determined independence and widowhood.

    Both films were also major hits, and very influential on post war society. Twenty Four Eyes was, and remains, a hugely beloved and very popular and acclaimed film in Japan, while No Regrets was so popular in its day that ‘No Regrets…’ became apparently something of a catchphrase among radically minded young people. Although he later criticised it, Nagisa Oshima quotes it as a major influence on him and his contemporaries.

    Both lead characters have been criticised as in some ways weak or false characterisations of Japanese women. Mellen (page 169) implicitly criticises Kinoshita for losing his nerve, changing her as the film progresses into a simply pacifist who hates war because it kills people, with none of the political dimension indicated earlier in the film. Richie states that Japanese critics felt that Yukie was an unrealistic character, quite simply, a woman who did not and could not have existed.

    To summarise my understanding of the main character’s developments:

    Oishi:

    We meet her first of all as a suit-wearing bicycling new teacher in a remote and conservative island community. The locals are shocked and outraged at her modern ways. When complaining to her mother later, Oishi complains that she had no other way of covering the nine miles to school without a bike, and wearing a suit was the only practical way to travel like this. She mentions helpfully that she made the suit out of a kimono (I can’t say I ever heard of a brown tweed kimono). In the school, Oishi is revealed as having a great rapport with her children, with a mischievous and subversive sense of humour – she teases the children about the Emperor being in the cupboard (thats where they’ve stored his picture). This later becomes a running joke with the children. Later, more seriously, a teacher is arrested for using seditious anti-war material in the classroom. Oishi insists the material is suitable, but all copies are burnt by the terrified head teacher. Oishi looks on in impotent horror as the book is burnt.

    Oishi starts to despair as the war deepens. She tries to talk her boys into not becoming soldiers, but they point out that their only alternative is semi-starvation as laborers or fishermen. She appears to stop her political activities and gradually becomes more passive, bemoaning the loss of life in the war. She marries, her husband dies in the war, and she berates her children when they say they too would have liked to have died in the war like their father. Later, when the mother of a girl who objects to the girls plans to leave the village to study music summons Oishi, she finds she cannot even challenge the mothers authority, simply refusing to offer an opinion on whether mother or daughter is right. As the film draws to a close, Oishi is honoured by her students, mostly girls as the majority of her boys were killed.

    Yukie:

    We meet her first as a privileged daughter of a prominent professor, flirting with his students. She is shallow and impulsive. When the two men she loves leave to follow different directions in life, she becomes a rebel without a cause, flitting from one role to another, eventually leaving home to try to win some independence and find herself. She seems to find her role by becoming the passive, loyal wife to a real rebel. When he dies at the hands of the authorities, she both rebels from societies expectations but also fulfils her duty by going to work in the fields with her parents in law. She finally rejects all the expectations of an upper class Japanese lady in becoming a dedicated community worker in a remote community.

    Kurosawa was obviously making quite a radical film, populist but also hard hitting. His film seems to have been a big hit with its intended audience – open minded younger Japanese, searching for ideas and role models in the immediate post war world. Kinoshita made his film 9 years later, when Japan was starting its recovery, and the war was becoming more of a distant memory, and the political system was starting to take its final shape. It is clearly more accommodating to mainstream Japanese society, with its refusal to show any characters taking a strong stand against tradition, with direct conflict avoided, and then the films final descent into sentimentality. The film never challenges the audience in the same way Kurosawa’s film does. The settings of course are crucial – Kurosawa set his films right in the heart of the pre-war conflicts (Kyoto and Tokyo), while Kinoshita chose a location as remote from the centers of power as it is possible to imagine.

    Oishi is clearly a more ‘realistic’ character than Yukie. It would have been easy I think for a Japanese woman of the time to identify with her initial idealism and radicalism, which rapidly faded in the face of unstoppable pressure into a depoliticised and passive anti-war stance. Yukie is a far more difficult character – driven by her passions in a most unJapanese way, with an almost superhuman refusal to accept defeat near the end. At the end of the film Oishi is surrounded by loving friends, Yukie is with a random group of villagers, isolated from her peers and family. So its not surprising I think that Oishi has remained a popular figure, while Yukie has (to my knowledge) become a largely forgotten character in a rarely seen film.

    So was Kinoshita right to create a character which is entirely realistic, but unchallenging? Yukie seems more convincing to us from the distance of 60 years, but was Kurosawa perhaps just creating an idealised woman who could never really exist, so defeating his own aim of examining what went wrong for Japan?

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu, your summary of Oishi and Yukie seems spot on. I wonder how much of Kurosawa’s immediate and relatively strong post-war condemnation of the war and those responsible in it was a calculated move aimed to assure those who came to power that he, despite his wartime propaganda films, should not be seen as a film maker dangerous to the new American led Japan. Kinoshita, on the other hand, had none of that burden when making Twenty-four Eyes, allowing him the luxury of not needing to attack the war, but only to show how it affected those at the home front.

    To answer your question, I don’t think that Kinoshita was either right or wrong to create a character like Oishi who, as you write, “is entirely realistic, but unchallenging”. Rather, his aim just wasn’t what Kurosawa’s had been with No Regrets for Our Youth.

    I do agree with you though that Kurosawa’s take seems far more interesting.

      link

    Ugetsu

    I wonder how much of Kurosawa’s immediate and relatively strong post-war condemnation of the war and those responsible in it was a calculated move aimed to assure those who came to power that he, despite his wartime propaganda films, should not be seen as a film maker dangerous to the new American led Japan.

    Do you really think so? I would have thought it out of character for Kurosawa to take this sort of approach. I also think he would have made a ‘safer’ less overtly political film if that had been the case (although of course we don’t really know the film he would have made if he hadn’t been under such censorship pressure). I would have thought that films more like One Wonderful Sunday is a film that could be accused of being intended as ‘safe’, but not No Regrets.

    Kinoshita, on the other hand, had none of that burden when making Twenty-four Eyes, allowing him the luxury of not needing to attack the war, but only to show how it affected those at the home front.

    I haven’t seen enough films from the period to say for certain, but it does seem to me that over the twenty years or so after the end of the war, there were three phases of Japanese films addressing the war. In the first few years, there were a series of films which I think were quite direct and insightful (even if they used allegory rather than direct depictions) into the war period. Then in the mid 1950’s there were big budget films like Twenty-four Eyes and the Burmese Harp which were non-political, sentimental and essentially seemed to portray the Japanese people as passive victims of the war. Then, going into the 1960’s, a new wave of film makers made films that were far more angry and politically direct like those by Nagisa Oshima, or blackly humorous, like Fires on the Plain. There often seems to me to a deep vein of nationalist self loathing in some of the latter films.

    Personally, I find those films made just after the war so much more interesting (at least, those few that are available). Perhaps there was something more raw, and more open about the society then that allowed very fundamental questions to be asked, despite the censorship.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: Do you really think so? I would have thought it out of character for Kurosawa to take this sort of approach. I also think he would have made a ‘safer’ less overtly political film if that had been the case (although of course we don’t really know the film he would have made if he hadn’t been under such censorship pressure). I would have thought that films more like One Wonderful Sunday is a film that could be accused of being intended as ‘safe’, but not No Regrets.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that No Regrets was a safe film, only that in its attack on the war and with its apparent promotion of ideals like individualism, women’s position and a spirit of cooperation, it pretty well corresponded with what the occupation was “ordering” from Japanese film makers at the time. We have of course suggested that between the lines, there may also be quite a bit of criticism of the occupation as well. But certainly, if one takes the more typical position of seeing No Regrets as a film primarily critical of the war, it corresponded extremely well with the occupation wishes, and by doing so certainly must have sent a signal to the Americans that this Kurosawa fellow, who made a few fairly popular propaganda films during the war, was not going to be a threat. I don’t think it was a safe film, but it may have been a calculated move to win over the censors.

    Ugetsu: I haven’t seen enough films from the period to say for certain, but it does seem to me that over the twenty years or so after the end of the war, there were three phases of Japanese films addressing the war. … Personally, I find those films made just after the war so much more interesting

    I very much agree here, even if my knowledge of these films is extremely limited!

      link

    Ugetsu

    Vili

    But certainly, if one takes the more typical position of seeing No Regrets as a film primarily critical of the war, it corresponded extremely well with the occupation wishes, and by doing so certainly must have sent a signal to the Americans that this Kurosawa fellow, who made a few fairly popular propaganda films during the war, was not going to be a threat. I don’t think it was a safe film, but it may have been a calculated move to win over the censors.

    I really should read up more on the period. I agree with you that the film was fully in accord with the censors, although we know that this was partly due to pressure at the script stage. I’m sure Kurosawa was aware that he had to be careful if he wasn’t going to destroy his career before it even got started – but I can’t see that it was calculated from the beginning for this purpose – if that was the case he would have made something much more light – (he was capable of it, as One Wonderful Sunday proved).

Viewing 5 posts - 1 through 5 (of 5 total)



Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!