The Most Beautiful (1944)

Unlike Kurosawa’s first film (but like his third), this is a propaganda film made during the Japanese war effort in the 1940s.

There’s plenty to say about the principles behind the film, the metatextual elements speaking to the Japanese government and social expectations of the time, but I’d rather just focus on Kurosawa and the film itself in this review. The primary actresses all deliver earnest, emotive performances, not quite as theatrical as performances in later Kurosawa films, but certainly at times emoting beyond a realistic level.

While it never rises to a narrative level, I feel Kurosawa’s humanistic tendencies came out in how he handled the visual side of these women’s stories. Unfortunately, the film does lack some of the iconic Kurosawa visual flourishes that his later films are full of, and even his first film had some of. At least there are still screen wipes!

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Interestingly, this is the film where Kurosawa first had the cast and crew “live on set as big families during both preproduction and filming”, according to IMDB at least. That feeling of family and unity did bleed through into the final film, and is one of the more enjoyable aspects.

There still seems to be a conflict, to me at least, between a more cohesive story about these women, and the requested ideas the government wanted communicated through the film. I don’t think the film quite succeeds in melding a more cohesive, standalone coming-of-age or developmental story for any of the protagonists, with the more overt propaganda elements.

It’s a tough film to rate since it’s so political in nature, but there’s such charm to the performances that I can’t help be won over in some ways. I give it two precision optical instruments, and a stringent quota.

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