Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Akira Kurosawa: 一番美しく / 'The Most Beautiful' (1944)

Akira Kurosawa managed to direct 一番美しく / The Most Beautiful (1944) during World War II, even with Imperial Japan heading for defeat. This film takes a poignant and intimate look at a group of women working in the coastal city of Hiratsuka at Nippon Kogaku (Japan Optical Company) optics production facility.  What is remarkable is how similar these women's camaraderie is to all-male combat units fighting at the same time. Their cohesiveness is due more to loyalty to each other than to any other factor.   
In addition to internal group camaraderie, these "most beautiful" workers are implored by slogans on the factory walls to "FOLLOW THE EXAMPLE OF THE WAR DEAD:" give it their all! Here laboring away on optics devices such as lenses for siting scopes, binoculars, range-finders and so on. There is specific mention of honoring the dead of the Battle of Tarawa (November 1943), in which almost the entire Japanese garrison of 2600 troops and 2200 Japanese and Korean laborers died. (The American attackers lost some 4,000 casualties as well). 
In scenes that remind me of the football game in the film version of MASH (1970), The Most Beautiful features the Japanese optics women playing volleyball and also, for unit cohesion, playing musical instruments and marching. All is not perfect in that some infighting occurs, with accusations of favoritism and special treatment for those taken ill by work stress.  
There is much beauty in this film, despite the war. We see Mount Fuji and a snowscape with children playing. We see some of the "girls" meditating in their communal garden, each having brought soil from their home garden plots. And we see the care and tenderness they show toward each other.  And there is a tale told by an old soldier about a roaming "raccoon dog," bringing some levity. 
Given the absurd violence of war, in the summer of 1945, a wave of American B-29 bombers -- the kind worked on by "Rosie the Riveter" in the USA -- attacked Hiratsuka and destroyed half of the city, just weeks before Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a year after this movie was released. Two more air attacks followed. 

After the war, Nippon Kogaku regrouped and retooled and eventually began producing my favorite type of camera, the kind I favor today: Nikon. 

Today's Rune: Protection. 


the walking man said...

To me it sounds like light propaganda for the home guard. Even the Third Reich continued film production into '44-'45. Nothing wrong with any of it, we did the same in all of our media as well. I suppose that just being Kurosawa there had to have been some innate artistry within the effort.

Charles Gramlich said...

Seems like it would be a great historical reference kind of film