Twenty-Four Eyes (Nijûshi no hitomi)
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Written by Keisuke Kinoshita from a novel by Sakae Tsuboi
In one of Japan’s most beloved films, Kinoshita traces Japanese history for the previous two decades through the life of a school teacher.
The story begins in 1934 as Sensei Oishi (Hideko Takamine) takes her first assignment as a first grade teacher on a rural island. The school is some distance from her home so she rides her bicycle to get there. The villagers are aghast at both the bike and the teacher’s Western clothes. It is clear that she is talented, though, and her students love her. One day, she falls and injures her ankle due to a prank they pull. She can no longer go to school so her little pupils make a long journey on foot to visit her. She intercepts them half way and treats the whole class to lunch. This breaks the ice with the parents who learn to appreciate her as well. But she is soon transferred to a middle school close to her home on the main island and must say goodbye to her students.
She meets up with them four years later in middle school. By this time the Great Depression is on and her students and their families struggle to get by. Some of the students are forced to drop out. The compassionate teacher feels each loss deeply and stays in touch with the drop-outs.
As Japan begins the war in Manchuria it becomes very unsafe for teachers to speak their real feelings. The boys are starting to dream of being soldiers, which our teacher discourages. She is counseled against this and quits her job, starting a sweet shop. By this time she has a husband and three children. Her husband eventually goes to war. We follow her loss and hardship during the war and the lean post-war years. With Chishû Ryû as another teacher.
This is a beautiful film. I especially enjoyed the rural scenery. The leading lady does a good job in role in which she ages considerably. The children are adorable. There are buckets of tears shed but somehow it’s not too melodramatic. The score is very nice as well. Recommended.