Stars: Yoko Yaguchi, Takashi Shimura, Takako Irie
Genre: Drama, Propaganda
The Most Beautiful is Akira Kurosawa's second film. It was made during WWII and is pretty blatantly nationalist propaganda. That's not to say that the film is without merit though. After all, what Kurosawa picture is?
The film is about a factory of women workers who make things like lenses and optics for the Japanese military. They are given a quota and a deadline that they must meet. They face very tough work and numerous hardships as the film follows them towards their goal.
Despite a clear objective being presented in the film (meeting a quota) the film's plot doesn't really "progress" in the traditional sense. The film really only tells a story secondly. Firstly it encapsulates its environment; it places the viewer into the universe of a wartime factory worker. Its intentional documentary-esque style further supports this. Almost none of the actresses were big names, and none of them looked like stars. They looked like typical Japanese girls. They wore no make-up, they bore no extravagance. And through their amateurishness realism was achieved.
It really is some very impressive acting. Every girl in the film, despite having little or no acting experience, did a wonderful job. Takashi Shimura also has a small role in the film but unfortunately its such a minor role that one can't help but to feel that his talents were a bit wasted.
There's a lot of emotion in this, and the actors do a great job to convey it all on screen. The problem I had was that I just really didn't care. It's a very slow moving, drama-heavy film and by the second half the girls just become annoying. They're constantly whining and complaining, most of the time over such petty things. I understand that the characters are immature because, well, because they were very immature and young girls. It just gets old real fast and sympathy for the characters is slowly lost. At least for me it was.
You also have the factor that these girls are directly aiding an imperialist government and equipping its military. Not to mention that the film itself, as per the nature of a propaganda film, is meant to manipulate a nation's public into feeling patriotic. It's the problem all propaganda films suffer from, Japanese or not. However, Kurosawa does a fine job at giving the film much more depth than your average propaganda film.
Kurosawa himself has said that while he was making The Most Beautiful it was already clear that Japan would lose the war. I find this a bit funny in a twisted sort of way. The film deals with a factory of girls struggling through great hardships just so they can help their country kill the other countries. And they're really passionate about it and, in their minds, they are completely righteous and justified in their actions. In the end they make their lenses and optics and they served their part. Yet, watching the film now, we know that the Japanese lost the war quite terribly. Which adds a large sense of dread to the film as we now watch the film knowing how it ultimately ends.
It's a great film to watch for its historical context. Kurosawa's directing certainly makes it watchable. All in all though it just had too much annoying drama for my tastes and the characters, though well played, became annoying and their actions seemed trivial and petty. The great sense of realism the film had going for it is much negated by the fact that it is indeed a propaganda film (which, of course, by definition, is manipulatively glorified). Really only for Kurosawa completionists and those interested in the historical context.
Purchase The Most Beautiful on Amazon: DVD - Criterion DVD Set