Film Review: The Most Beautiful
In 1944, Akira Kurosawa released The Most Beautiful as a propaganda-esque film for World War II. Starring Yoko Yaguchi, Takashi Shimura, Takako Irie, and Ichiro Sugai, the film had an unknown box office gross.
Set in an optics factory, the women workers struggle to meet production targets during the war. As such, they drive themselves to exceed said production targets individually and as a group.
Though more of a propaganda piece meant to drive support for the war effort, The Most Beautiful is still a wonderful film. While its plot is pretty simplistic, depicting the struggle of the factory workers, Kurosawa was able to put a lot into something so simple. He’s able to demonstrate the need for the workers in the factory to band together as a cohesive unit in order to keep production going, namely so that the high school workers can do their part for Japan. Interestingly enough, they do so and it’s wonderful to see them bond in sisterhood through their military style marches, work and even downtime, where they’re seen acting as very close friends and playing volleyball. The closeness is even seen in how comfortable they are around each other, wishing Watanabe well when she has to leave because of sickness or engaging in good natured ribbing while playing volleyball. Actually, all the characters in the film are done very well, with all of them having multiple facets.
Take the factory directors for instance. Early on in the film, they’re shown shouting the demands and production targets that the factory has and making sure that the girls know the targets are raising. At first, they seem almost stereotypically Japanese, only caring about the production targets that they’ve set and the output that the girls are able to give towards it. However, as the film continues, they’re seen as actually having soft sides to them. When confronting one of the girls about a problem she has had and a mistake that she has made, one of the directors doesn’t continue verbally berating her. Rather, he says that she tried the hardest she could, that she shouldn’t beat herself up over it and instead work harder next time. The factory directors are also ultimately the ones who are letting the girls have their downtime and give them the chance to play volleyball. Further, late in the year, the output is shown as sharply decreasing and it’s only after their gentle, yet stern encouragement towards the girls, rather than berating them, that production takes a hard upturn.
The girls in the film are also great characters, with Watanabe acting as the film’s main character considering that she’s the leader out of all of them. Interestingly, it seems that their group could be considered a character all to itself as they feed off each other and act as a cohesive whole. Take the times when one worker becomes sick and must go home, followed by another breaking her leg and then another falling sick with Watanabe helping to hide it. Their dedication to each other is as strong as their dedication to their work since the film shows how they suffer when even just a few of them are taken away, seen during their parade marches when the drums fall out of beat with each other.
As mentioned though, Watanabe acts as the main character and the film shows just how dedicated she is to her work, shown when she realizes that she improperly fixed a lens and spends an inordinate amount of time tracking it down just in case it winds up on the front lines and causes the death of a soldier. Notably, she’s the one beating herself up the hardest about it and is the one noted above who the factory director is telling did what she could.
As a whole, there’s a lot of really good acting present in this film. The girls are all able to convey their emotions quite well whenever one of their team has to leave for one reason or another, really helping to convey just how much of a close-knit community they are. Yoguchi as Watanabe does a fantastic job too, really putting across just how frantic she is about that improperly fixed lens.
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