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Twenty-Four Eyes (The Criterion Collection)
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Twenty-Four Eyes (The Criterion Collection)
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The story: a young woman begins her first teaching job on a small island village in Japan, with 12 students in her first grade class (hence the 24 eyes of the title). This opening sequence is charming & gentle, with the worst of the children's problems & woes easily mended with a few kind words & an understanding heart.
But as the children grow older, remaining in touch with their beloved teacher over the years, the harsher aspects of life begin to take their toll. First the Great Depression, then the rise of Japanese militarism -- and the teacher can only watch, sick at heart, as promising futures are dashed & redirected by family & social pressures.
While set in Japan during a specific period of history, the themes are timeless & universal, sad to say. When Japan continues its buildup to the Second World War, the patriotic songs & marches seem all too familiar -- as do the warnings from higher-ups in the school system that their job is to create obedient, patriotic citizens, willing to serve the state without question. It's made clear to our troubled teacher that any mention of other, antiwar possibilities are strictly forbidden, lest she be accused of being "a Red."
Yet she does what she can, telling her male students that she'd be just as proud of them for becoming farmers or clerks or rice merchants, rather than becoming soldiers. The boys, of course, are caught up in shining visions of military glory & honor, without the slightest notion of the dark & bloody reality behind them.
At the same time, she also struggles to help her female students become more than what family & society have prepared them to be ... not always successfully. Why does she struggle against such hopeless odds? Not so much for political or ideological reasons, but because of her individual compassion & spirit. These struggles even go on within her own family, as her husband is drafted & her own young sons dream of becoming soldiers themselves.
Covering nearly 20 years, the film has an elegiac tone, a sense of memories washing up over & over again upon the same shore which opens & closes the film. Hideko Takamine is superb as the teacher, nicknamed "Miss Pebble" by her students, changing over the years from the fresh-faced young woman who appears in Western clothes, riding a bicycle through the shocked village, to the middle-aged woman both wounded & tempered by loss & grief, still refusing to surrender to despair.
156 minutes may sound daunting, but don't let that stop you from watching this richly rewarding film. Most highly recommended!
The Criterion edition is fantastic and the subtitles are great. This film has my highest recommendation.
Keisuke Kinoshita's movie tackles directly such crucial issues as freedom of speech (if you speak out against the war, you could lose your job), as calling a spade a spade (a war means simply killing people), as the choice between war and peace, between love and hate, between care (for the children) and selfishness and between sincerity and deceit or worse denouncement. His movie makes one understand that there is an all powerful authority which intervenes behind the scene in people's lives, by manipulating public opinion and by trying to turn the population (and mostly its children and young men) into deaf-mute pawns in order to use them as cannon fodder. Another means is starving the dissidents by firing them.
Keisuke Kinoshita's characters are anchored in real life with its poverty (nothing to eat, or no money to go to school), its illnesses (tuberculosis), its accidents and, most importantly, the war and its victims.
Keisuke Kinoshita knows what true art is. It is not an expression of emotions, but the creation of emotions (involvement) into the spectator's heart.
His movie stands in sharp contrast with the actual avalanche of movie products pieced together with Meccano aliens (concocted with special effects) fighting human killers, while both are shouting their immoral gospel of violence and death. A truly cold world, and in no way the warm atmosphere created by Keisuke Kinoshita's school teacher.
`Twenty-Four Eyes' was shot by a director with a big heart, who made simply an everlasting sublime movie. A must see.
"Twenty-four eyes" begins when in the 1920s a young and enthusiasthic teacher, sweet and beautiful Hisako Oishi (played magistrally by Hideko Takamine) arrives to a small, poor, backward and isolated village for her first job. She will meet quite a lot of difficulties, in the classroom and almost everywhere else, but ultimately all her pupils will worship her and people in the village will adopt her as one of their own. We will watch the children growing and their techer marry and become a mother, when in the same time observing a dark shadow of approaching war...
I will not describe anything else to avoid spoilers, but this film greatly impressed me - and at one moment, a particularly beautiful scene actually almost made me cry. Watching all those children grow, when knowing that some will be snatched from life too young by the wars awaged by Japan between 1937 and 1945 was by moments heartbreaking. On another hand, this film, although frequently very sad, is never nihilistic or cynical - much to the contrary, it is a song to the beauty of life and love and their ultimate triumph over death. There is also some humor very delicately inserted, with my absolute favourite being the three gossiping women from the village seizing EVERY occasion to get together and "process data"...)))
At 156 minutes it is a long film, but I didn't feel the time pass - I was seduced and fascinated, from the beginning to the end. The performance of all the actors, inluding the very young ones, is simply spotless. The director controlled this film masterfully for every and each second. The scenario is very strong. Visually this film is also spectacularly good, which is an achievement for a black and white movie. And of course there is the great music.
This film is a rare treasure, to buy, watch, keep and pass to your children. Enjoy!
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