MOST BEAUTIFUL, THE (ICHIBAN UTSUKUSHIKU)
(director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; cinematographer: Joji Ohara; music: Seiichi Suzuki; cast: Takashi Shimura (Factory production head), Ichiro Sugai (Assistant), Yôko Yaguchi (Tsuru Watanabe), Takako Irie (Dorm mother), Sachiko Ozaki (Sachiko Yamazaki), Shizuko Nishigaki (Fusae Nishioka), Asako Suzuki (Asako Suzumura), Shizuko Yamada (Hisae Yamaguchi); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Motohiko Ito; The Criterion Collection; 1944-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“If you ever wanted to miss a Kurosawa film, this minor film is the one.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
A World War II propaganda film that’s aimed at inspiring patriotism during the height of the war. The film was promoted by Japan’s Office of Public Information for the war effort. It wasn’t released in America until 1988. The locale is a military lens factory in the town of Hiratsuka, where a division of young gung-ho women strive to increase their factory production quotas. This is noted Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s (“Rashomon”/”Stray Dog”/”Yojimbo”)second film after Sanshiro Sugata (1943). If you ever wanted to miss a Kurosawa film, this minor film is the one. It’s no better or worse than the usual propaganda film, as it’s at least not hysterical and, considering the hardships at the time, the b/w film, shot as a semi-documentary, has good production values.
The film’s star is Yôko Yaguchi, who later married Kurosawa.
The factory’s kindly paternalistic production head (Takashi Shimura) tells the lady workers they must increase production to 50 per cent of the men. The worker leader is Tsuru Watanabe (Yôko Yaguchi), who gets the boss to agree that the ladies will do two-thirds of what the men do. The idealized ladies work hard under trying conditions and encounter numerous problems from fatigue, tuberculosis, illness, a breaking of a leg, and in one case, the death of a family member. Watanabe becomes obsessed with meeting the goal, which endangers her well-being as she faces many challenges that include what to do about her mother dying at home with no one to take care of her.
The film lucidly shows that team work is needed to win the war, as it points out throughout the beauty of the Japanese spirit and the value of self-sacrifice. Kurosawa used professional actors only in the major roles, in the minor roles he got realism from the non-professionals.
It should be only of interest to Kurosawa completists and critics.
REVIEWED ON 8/1/2010 GRADE: C