24 Eyes • 二十四の瞳
二十四の瞳 dir: 木下恵介 1954
I saw this today on a Eureka Masters of Cinema DVD release. I quite liked it. I was interested in what film could beat Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai in an Awards competition. However despite enjoying it I don’t think it has the classic quality of the former.
It was made in 1954, less than 9 years after the war.
It’s about a young schoolteacher, Miss “Pebble” （小石 こいし、a pun on her name 大石 おおいし） in her first job and her first 12 pupils and it follows them through the years before and after the Pacific War. (Remember that for Japan it didn’t start in 1941 with Pearl Harbour but much earlier in Manchuria.) Oddly the impact of the war is quite muted in many ways and what are more to the fore are the general struggles of life and the difficulties of a fishing community in Japan.
It is unashamedly sentimental. Quite long at 155 minutes but I never found it to be slow. I think if it was made now it’d be an NHK drama series. Maybe they’ve already remade it. It was a hugely popular film in it’s day.
It has been criticised both for it’s sentimentalism and it’s unapologitic portrayal of Japan during the war.
I don’t especially find anything wrong in it being sentimental. As a type of film, it’s fine. People like a weepie. You can look at it and feel good that things are no longer like that or that you are fortunate in your own life. Usually there is some sort of happier ending, an affirmation that things can get better or be survived at least. As an entertainment it’s a type of catharsis.
It’s treatment of the war. It has often been written that the Japanese see themselves as victims in the war and as part of their re-inventition in post war years that they haven’t apologised. Well, I wonder how much the little people have any control over what their government does, even more so when the government is totalitarian. I find it very believable and accurate that a small community would experience the war in terms of men going off never to return and feeling shortages, but ultimately are more concerned with the usual hardships that come from being near the bottom of society. And that a teacher would feel more grief about the loss of her students and husband in a war rather than responsibility for the decisions of a government is wholly believable too. Miss Pebbles is called a coward in the film for not teaching militaristic ideas. Prehaps the cowardice might be not standing up to the military but I know the the realistic and pragmatic way would have been not to and you can’t really fault the character on this point.
I recommend it. It’s different from many Japanese films I’ve seen. It has good performances and is well made.
A more comprehensive review is available at Senses of Cinema,