The Most Beautiful: Moonlight and Memory
9 October 2010
16 October 2010
Thanks for your small essay here, Chris! Very interesting reading.
The Most Beautiful indeed appears to be less open for interpretation than many of Kurosawa’s other films. For a propaganda film, I wonder if it is a good thing or a bad thing.
I never really paid attention to the moon in the film, but your interpretation certainly sounds plausible. Many films of course use the moon as a connection between two geographical places (as when two characters separated from one another look at the same moon), so using it to connect two temporal places doesn’t sound far fetched at all.
If my memory serves me well, there is an old Japanese belief that the moon actually tells you the future. But if you look at it directly, you go mad. Another thing that I remember about the moon in Japan is that the moon rabbit lives there, making rice cakes. I don’t think it’s the rabbit who tells you the future though, these being unrelated beliefs.
17 October 2010
Hi Chris, interesting interpretation. I have to admit I didn’t really even notice that about the moon. I think you’re right though, The Most Beautiful is a very straightforward film. Almost too straightforward to be very interesting to me. I wondered at times while watching it if Kurosawa’s heart was really in it considering what I know of his later films. I think it’s a well orchestrated piece of propaganda, and the film held my attention throughout; but it’s still propaganda. And for me that’s the more important part of this film. Anyway, I just finished my own review of it here if you’d like to check that out as well. I’m sure I’ll add some more thoughts about it soon in these threads too though, as it’s nice to actually have people to talk to about these things.
24 October 2010
Vili and Mike thanks for responding to my rather desperate attempt to look deeper into this film. Obviously, this film was made under severe constraints and was made with a single purpose in mind. My attempts to symbolically analyze the narrative are slightly fruitless, but I do think this is a decent film. It is delicately made, and you end up caring for these young woman even if their environment is one of war. Perhaps a greater analysis would be had if we compared it to similar “Home Front” stories like William Saroyan’s The Human Comedy and such. It would be interesting to compare the values contained in Kurosawa’s Japanese film and American and/or European ones as well as the techniques involved in the conveyance of their ideas. I just don’t have the ambition (or time at the moment) to attempt that here, though.
For nine days now, I’ve been trying to think of something to say about The Most Beautiful. (I had quite a lot to say about Sanshiro Sugata and its sequel.) But nothing at all has occurred to me. I squeeze and squeeze my imagination, but this sponge is as dry as a desert bone.
I think part of the problem is that The Most Beautiful is a very straightforward film, and I feel it’s not really open to a whole lot of interpretation (but, please, prove me wrong). Since it was directed in a documentary style, Kurosawa seems to be restraining himself visually and trying to keep away any cinematic flair. Shots are set up as they would be if he were trying to capture real people in their real lives. However, this being Kurosawa, a few wonderful flairs pop up now and again. I’d like to latch on to one image that I loved and challenge myself (and anyone else, for that matter) to try to squeeze something out of it however meaningless (and I warn you, it is meaningless).
The scene I’m thinking of is quite brief: When Suzumura is leaving and all the girls are huddled together to tearfully say farewell, their teacher nods to one of the girls. She runs back to the music room to get Suzumura’s flute. The room is empty and quite dark, yet intense moonlight falls through the window illuminating a table where the flute is resting alone. It’s a very solemn, beautiful image and nothing about it is documentary-like; it is, rather, very poetic.
The moonlight obviously emanates from the moon, and the moon plays part in another nice scene later in the film: When the one girl (I can’t remember her name just now) goes outside to stare at the moon, hears a train whistle, and cries reminded of home and family. We can perhaps connect these two images: moonlight falling on the Suzumura’s flute and the moon itself which the other girl gazes upon.
Then what is the connection (if there is even one)? The flute is given to Suzumura as a memento, something to remember the wonderful times she has had with the girls. It may even be a symbol of her dedication to the country through working at the lens factory. It is the only tangible thing she is taking back with her to her home, so within it lie both the love she has for the other girls (and their love for her) and her duty to her country in this time of war. At the time it is given to her it is of the present, but this present is delicate and fleeting and when she walks out that front door, it will be firmly and irrevocably in the past. The flute is memory in physical form and the moonlight is presenting it to her, beckoning her to take it. “Here is your past,” the moonlight seems to say.
Something similar can be said of the girl who stares at the moon. She has been fighting with the other girl (whose name, too, I can’t remember), and she goes outside in despair. The moon is bright and wonderful in the sky and she stares up at it in her silent, emotive turmoil. Then she hears the train whistle and this together with the moon brings tears, tears of remorse and tears of longing. The remorse is for the fight and the lost tempers; the longing is for home and family and a life lived previous to this one, all but vanished. It is the moon which the girl runs to seeking solace, escape, even, perhaps, haven, and as she stares the sound of the whistle blows, the whistle from the train which conceivably could return her home and in despair, tears fall. The moon is the catalyst pointing her toward the whistle: “Here is your past,” it seems to say.
The moon is the only illumination afforded us in the darkness of night. It is a reminder of the daylight. In void, we find solace, but solace is a sad thing, a reminder of what has been lost. We take comfort in the memories of happiness, but despair in the happiness lost.