Kurosawa’s genius made manifest after several trial efforts. Setsuko Hara (Tokyo Story, Late Spring) is a revelation as a young woman who matures from indifference to commitment.
Yukie Yagihara (Hara) is the daughter of a liberal professor at Kyoto University who has written about the dangers of militarism at a very inopportune time in Japan. A group of students idolizes the professor, who is under fire by the government. Two of the students are interested in Yukie. Noge is constantly haranging the group about academic freedom. Itokawa is quieter. Yukie is afraid for her father and does everything possible to avoid any talk about political matters.
Finally, the professor is forced to resign and the students start to organize a protest. Noge is the ringleader but Itokawa backs out to please his mother. Noge is arrested and Itokawa goes on to become a public prosecutor. After Noge has spent several years in prison, he returns to visit the professor and Yukie in the company of Itokawa, who secured his release after being convinced that Noge had changed his opinions. Itokawa has also secured a job for Noge in China. Yukie is so shook up by this development that she packs up that very day to move to Tokyo. Her father tells her she must be ready to suffer for her freedom.
Yukie has a series of uninspiring jobs in Tokyo. She then meets Itokawa on the street and finds out from him that Nobe is now working as a researcher in the city. Longing for meaning in her life, she gradually works up the courage to see Nobe. She quickly senses that he is still fighting for the old causes, now to keep Japan out of the war. She has always been half in love with him and they marry.
Their happiness is marred by a sense of impending doom but their motto is “no regrets in my life.” Nobe is again arrested and Yukie is jailed for some time for refusing to answer questions about Nobe’s activities. Yukie is eventually released through Itokawa’s intervention but Nobe dies in jail. Yukie sets out to visit Nobe’s estranged peasant parents and seeks redemption through hard work in the fields amid peasants who believe the entire family to be traitors and spies.
I admire Setsuko in the many Ozu films she made but this performance is really something different. She plays a modern woman with a core of iron here and is sensational. She is really the reason to watch this movie but the story is quite moving too. Who said Kurosawa couldn’t create multi-dimensional women? Recommended.