No Regrets for Our Youth Reviews
Yukie pacing back and for day after day outside of Noge's is so beautifully staged and captured. Great set and lighting to favor weather changes - a rainy day, windy day, and sunny day when Noge finally bumps into her.
Yukie is hard to read, a sequence of events between her and Noge reveals her to be bipolar. Things he may enjoy, like a worm or a movie, may cause her sudden out years of sadness.
There's a moment Yukie struggles to carry a bail of hay after we've seen a montage of a disapproving community that considers anyone from Noge's family to be a traitor... Kurosawa uses a unique method of something like an offscreen studio audience laughing at her struggle. "Don't forget the struggle of freedom" we hear Yukie's father say amidst a montage of voice overs as she tirelessly sows.
However, it's 1933, and with Japan's militarism on the rise, their world is about to change. The students protest for freedom, but their movement is crushed, and they must decide whether to continue on with it or conform. Itokawa chooses the latter path; Noge the former. The safe route for Yukie is with Itokawa, but she's drawn to Noge. As she puts to Itokawa while walking with him at night in a fantastic scene, "If I follow you, my life will be peaceful. But...if I may say so...it'll be boring. If I follow him [Noge] something dazzling will await me. My life will be stormy. It terrifies me and fascinates me."
Setsuko Hara showed outstanding range in the film, and turned in a great performance. As Noge is possibly leaving her for years, or forever, Kurosawa shows her standing behind a door, torn by rising emotions. She simply can't remain on a conventional path, as she says to her father "Now I feel my life is meaningless - I want to go out into the world and see what it's like to live." She later will have several great scenes on her in-laws' farm, enduring backbreaking labor planting rice, and having to resolutely stand up to people there who insult and shame her for her association with Noge. Kurosawa is a master at letting his actors wordlessly communicate with their faces, and does so brilliantly in a scene when various villagers stare at her. Through it all, she knows that she chose wisely, and recalling Noge's words "No regrets in my life, no regrets whatsoever" gives her strength.
Indeed she has no regrets, and this is the title of the film, but it's clear that Kurosawa has regrets for his country's actions, which is the film's irony. It's stirring at the end with messages of individuality and freedom, which are powerful but feel a little over the top, possibly the reflecting script alterations Kurosawa was not happy with, or the oversight and influence of the occupation American censors. I believe a good portion of it, however, was Kurosawa trying to process the shame and humiliation of the war, find something positive, and point to the future, one in which there is a need to at least sometimes think as individuals in order to remain free. One year after the war, Kurosawa essentially admits the country was wrong, something that Japanese officials would struggle with in various forms for decades afterwards.
"I look forward to seeing more Noge's in the future, rising from this assembly of young, hopeful students," says the professor at the end, the pain and shame on a couple of faces in the crowd. "You must fight for freedom, and there will be torture and sacrifice in the struggle," he had told Yukie earlier. Artistically these messages feel a bit forced, and yet, we have to admire Kurosawa's courage, and are grateful that such an excellent filmmaker gave us this window into the Japanese psyche in 1946.
Ultimately, too leftist, & naively idealistic for me. As bad as fascism is, self-righteous protesting student university worship leads to just as many ills. If it wasn't for Hara, it wouldn't be nearly as watchable.
At one point in the movie, I'm like, "stop being boring!" Yeah, I just didn't really find her husband as heroic as I was supposed to.
I find the "no regrets" phrase to be meaningless. Really? No regrets for anything? You've never treated someone poorly? You don't regret that? That's rather cold & unfeeling.
The worst part is that I can't tell the characters apart. They're all Asian.
As with many of his films this one is about valorizing the individual's struggle for right behavior against a society that is indifferent or hostile. This time the struggle takes place over a decade and follows the story of a girl who gets involved with an opponent to the imperial regime and a spy. It looks at what heroism really means and concludes, in a typically Japanese way, that it means continuously suffering for a good cause. It isn't exactly a novel concept but he handles the material well.
An interesting feature of the work is that the main character is a woman. This is quite unusual for a Kurosawa film since he appears to have found the lives of women entirely uninteresting. The presentation of the lead character features several highly unsurprising and patriarchal assumptions but after an unimpressively self-centered youth she actually turns into a surprisingly strong character. Sure, she expresses this strength through subordinating her desires first to those of her husband and then to her in-laws, but she is at least deciding the path of her own life and gets to tell off people who are less stubborn than she is. One can only expect so much from a 1940s film after all.
I think one of the difficult bits to appreciate is the then modern setting. The events dealt with were then fresh in everyone's memory (it must have started production mere months after the US landing) so he felt no need to explain the background. And indeed the rise of Imperial Japan doesn't need much explaining since it features mostly the same features we'd expect from a fascist state: the suppression of academic liberty and the persecution of political dissidents. But the same cannot be said of the actions of Noge. All that we know about him is that he is doing something he considers vitally important. He's clearly aligned with the Leftists and anti-fascists, but for more than that you need to look up the Wikipedia page to find out it has to do with leaking secrets to Russia and the Sorge case. Then there are the not infrequent moments of dialogue over-minimizing. There were many times I wanted to shout at the screen, "Yes, I understand that you're feeling something hard. Is it too much to ask that you explain what it is?"
Overall it was a good film, but nowhere near his best. It starts off fairly well but has a long and slow middle before moving onto a much stronger ending. I didn't recognize most of the cast but I did squeal a little when I spotted Takashi Shimura in a bit role as a villain. I don't think I ever saw him as a baddie before so that was fun. I think this is probably the earliest of his films I can genuinely say I liked for more than its academic value.
Kurosawa made some slow films (Seven Samurai and Kagemusha some to mind) but this films crawls, literally crawls. It is slow, boring and gives the audience nothing in return for choking through it. It isn't Kurosawa's worst (that would be Sanshiro Sugata II) but it sure is close.