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July 11, 2005

Twenty-four Eyes

Nijushi no hitomi
Keisuke Kinoshita - 1954
Hong Kong DVD Region 0

Keisuke Kinoshita was a contemporary of Akira Kurosawa. Both began their directorial careers in 1943. While Kinoshita was a more prolific filmmaker and more commercially successful in Japan, he now seems only known through the writings of film scholars like Donald Richie. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, but I can't recall any of Kinoshita's films playing in the New York City revival houses when I lived there in the early 70s. While I still have admittedly large gaps in my knowledge of Japanese film, I took advantage of being able to see Twenty-four Eyes on DVD.

The film is about a young teacher portrayed by Hideko Takamine. She is assigned a First Grade class at a poor village in one of Japan's islands. The year is 1928, shortly before the militarization of Japan. Takamine causes a stir in her introduction to the community with her western style clothing, riding a bicycle. The villagers all wear kimonos and live according to traditions handed down through succeeding generations. The twenty-four eyes of the title refers to the twelve students that are Takamine's first class. The film follows the relationship between the teacher and students over the course of almost twenty years.

While the film takes place in Japan over fifty years ago, Kinoshita's critique of nationalism is still quite relevant today. A teacher is accused of being a communist for having his class read writings that have anti-war sentiments. Patriotism is equated with unquestioning nationalism. Takamine's fears that her male students and husband will die in the war come true. One of Takamine's sons asks why she does not see the glory of having someone die in battle. She responds that she wants to be an ordinary mother. Later, when asked by her son if she will cry because Japan lost the war, Takamine states that she has cried enough for the dead.

The film also portrays people trapped by poverty or tradition. By the end of the film we have seen some of the children able to manifest their dreams. One student even becomes a teacher. Several other of the children have their dreams thwarted by the needs of their parents to help in family trades or take care of even younger children. Three of the boys die in combat while one returns blind. One of the girls dies of tuberculosis. This is not to say that Twenty-four eyes is bleak. Kinoshita's viewpoint might be described as cheerfully stoic. While there is much crying and sentiment, there is also a sense of pragmatism.

The print used for the DVD looked a bit worn and scratched. The subtitles had some mispelled words. This is the complete film at 155 minutes. When Twenty-four Eyes had its original U.S. theatrical run, the version shown was 116 minutes long. The film is also a fitting showcase for Hideko Takamine, one of the biggest stars of Japan who was both the girl next door and a very independent woman.

Posted by peter at July 11, 2005 05:07 PM