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Film / The Most Beautiful (1944)

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The Most Beautiful is a 1944 film from Japan directed by Akira Kurosawa.

Kurosawa's second film as a director, it is a propaganda movie—it begins with a title card saying "Attack and destroy the enemy!"—about Japanese women laboring on the home front during World War II. The East Asia Optics Factory makes precision-crafted lenses for use by the Japanese military. There is a men's dormitory and a women's dormitory, but the film focuses on the women workers at the factory, led by Tsuru Watanabe the section leader, and Mrs. Mizushima the house mother.

At the beginning of the film the girls (they appear to be mostly girls, in their late teens, still technically in custody of their parents) are challenged to raise their output of lenses by 50%. They demand to instead be challenged to raise their output of lenses by 2/3. The girls work hard, but the difficulties of life present obstacles; one comes down with a chronic cold, one regularly suffers fevers, another falls off a roof and breaks her leg. Tsuru drives the other girls to work harder, while herself fretting about her mother, who has fallen ill back home. Can the women of the optics factory reach their goal, and make more lenses for the emperor?

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This and the other propaganda films Kurosawa made during the war were later regarded by him as Old Shames.

Yoko Yaguchi, who played Tsuru, married Akira Kurosawa in 1945 and they remained married until her death 40 years later.


Tropes:

  • And the Adventure Continues: Until August 15, 1945, that is. The ending shows Tsuru, grief-stricken after the death of her mother, returning to her table to inspect lenses.
  • Comforting Comforter: Mrs. Yamaguchi tucks in a worker when checking on the girls at night.
  • During the War, Japanese women worked at factories making war materiel.
  • Flashback: The workers tell their boss that Tsuru is worried about a lens that she may have let go by unchecked. There's a flashback to Tsuru getting an Oh, Crap! look on her face as she realizes this, followed by another flashback to a scene earlier in the movie where another worker distracts Tsuru in the inspection room, as a lens sits there on her desk unchecked.
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  • The Graph Shows the Trend: The progress of the women at the factory is illustrated by a line graph that trends up when they are dedicated and working well, and trends down when various factors (fatigue, internal bickering, a broken leg) slow them down.
  • Patriotic Fervor:
    • Well, it's a wartime propaganda film. When the girls at the factory are asked to raise their output by 50% they demand that the standard be raised to 2/3. There's also lots of marching and patriotic songs and talks about duty throughout the movie.
    • The end of the movie has Tsuru refusing an order to go home after her mother dies, instead continuing to labor at the factory while crying and singing a patriotic song.
  • Propaganda Machine: It's probably not supposed to be viewed this way, but nonetheless we see the workers at the factory surrounded by posters that say stuff like "Follow the example of the war dead!" and "Follow the example of Admiral Yamamoto!"—killed when the Americans shot down his plane in 1943. They march a lot and sing war songs and start their day by pledging to destroy America and Britain.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Mrs. Yamaguchi is a war widow who keeps a shrine to her late husband, complete with ceremonial sword.
  • Slice of Life: There really isn't a central story, rather an episodic slice-of-life structure showing women at a factory laboring in support of the war effort.
  • Staggered Zoom:
    • A staggered zoom in on Tsuru and Yamaguchi, as the latter, who has confessed to running chronic fevers every night, insists that she be allowed to stay at the factory and continue working.
    • Later a staggered zoom out, starting with a couple of the girls praying at a shrine, zooming out to reveal all of them praying at a shrine, as Tsuru hunts for her flawed lens.
  • Talking in Your Sleep
    • Played for humor/heartwarming when Mrs. Yamaguchi makes the rounds in the dormitory at lights-out and finds one worker murmuring "Please check this lens" in her sleep.
    • A more melancholy example when Tsuru, who is worried about her mother, says "Mother" while falling asleep at her desk, drunk with fatigue.
  • Tearjerker: The ending has Tsuru wiping away tears after the death of her mother, while continuing at her work inspecting lenses.
  • Voiceover Letter: Tsuru gets a letter from her father telling her that her mother has taken ill, but that they both think Tsuru should keep working.
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