A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Twenty-Four Eyes (Keisuke Kinoshita, 1954)

One of the most unabashedly sentimental movies you'll ever see, Twenty-Four Eyes may also be one of the most effective anti-war movies, without presenting bloody scenes of people being killed and maimed. Hideko Takamine plays Oishi, a young teacher who begins her career in 1928 on Shodo Island in the Inland Sea of Japan, teaching a first-grade class of 12 -- six boys and six girls -- the 24 eyes of the film's title. We follow her life, and through her point of view the lives (and some deaths) of her first pupils, for the next 18 years, as the world and the war encroach upon a peaceful, pastoral setting. Where Kinoshita's Morning for the Osone Family (1946) was claustrophobic in its presentation of life during wartime, Twenty-Four Eyes shows how the entrapment of people by war can occur in a place where there are no visible signs of the conflict. The natural setting remains undisturbed. No planes fly overhead, no bombs are dropped on the village, but the menace of war threatens the minds and hearts of the most vulnerable: the children Oishi teaches. The most chilling scenes are the ones in which young men are sent off to the war, as flag-waving crowds sing bloodthirsty tributes to the glory of dying in battle for their country. Kinoshita and cinematographer Hiroshi Kusuda reinforce the bitter irony by their restraint. They don't darken the atmosphere: It's the same lovely natural setting. Only the human beings in it have changed. I have to admit to feeling the movie is overlong, and that Kinoshita ladles on the pathos a bit too heavily. The cast weeps floods of tears, and the soundtrack features not only the Japanese folk songs that the children learn but also some old-fashioned Western parlor songs: "Annie Laurie," "The Last Rose of Summer," "Home, Sweet Home," "Auld Lang Syne," and, most curiously, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus."  But repress the cynic or the realist, and you may find it moving, too.

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