Pain and Glory (Dolor y gloria)
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This was the first film directed after II World War by Akira Kurosawa, just 1 year after the surrender of Japan and atomic bombings. However, we can see how fast the situation and opinions are changing. Japan was still in ruins, while we already see pacifist leftist films like No Regrets for Our Youth showing militarists in a very negative light. Just a year ago the military power was still sending people to inevitable death. And then Kurosawa comes up with such story about young people who make a tremendous difference in the life of the whole country, being ready to sacrifice their youth for the bright future.
No Regrets of Our Youth shows the conflict between young people of different type and background. Noge (Susuma Fujita) and Itokawa (Akitake Kono) study in the University together when the Takigawa incident in 1933 occurs and Japan intervenes China. A leftist Noge who has a strong wish to take part in the political life of the country realized it is time to act and hope against the consequences of this incident. He leaves the school and attempts to build the bonds among young people to confront militarism. Noge is a real intelligent who cares for both country and people living there, while Itokawa is a guy from the working class. Initially, he has the intention to join his friend in this fight. But he later decides he can't do that as his mother has been living her life to let him study and become a decent man. Itokawa has to take into consideration his mother felt, and their paths with Noge split. At the same time, Noge develops a rift between him and his family. His family doesn't understand him, and he is forced to sacrifice not only position in the school for this fight but also relationships with the family.
Later, Noge is arrested for being involved into espionage (this story is based on the personality of Hotsumi Ozaki who assisted Soviet spy Richard Zorge during the World War), and Itokawa becomes a state prosecutor. He is married and he lives for his family and mother. We cannot blame him for anything, it is just a different type who is not ready to join this political fight. But this is the film where Kurosawa praises Noge's attitude, as well as Yukie (played by Setsuko Hara).
A daughter of a professor, Yukie is initially unable to choose between Noge and Itokawa. She blames childishly Noge for being so much into politics but ends up having an affair with him. His talks and hopes were incendiary and strong to impress her for the rest of life. Itokawa seems to be boring for her. After a few years, she meets Noge again and they start seeing each other. She knows she will have to sacrifice her youth to live with him, but this is something she is looking for. After the arrest of Noge, she makes another sacrifice going to the village of his parents and living with them being accused wife of spy by local villagers.
Kurosawa is merely impressed by these strong and young people who change the future of all us. He is showing in the screen, despite many sacrifices the future generations will learn to respect those who had sacrificed everything to fight, with no regrets for their youth. At the end of the film the war is over. Now we see Yukie becoming a local heroine in the village where everybody used to hate her. The minds of people change fast, according to politics. And No Regret to Our Youth is about the brave people who are not afraid of fighting military doctrine and radical right ideas taking the peoples into oblivion.
One of the early features of Kurosawa is marked with a great performance of actors and politically important story. Yet he has elaborated his filmmaking style in No Regrets for Our Youth. At this point, he was on the way to establish himself as world-acclaimed director.
Some movies have a way of capturing time passage that can weaken the viewer at the knees, feeling a merciless victim to time, change, life and death. There's a scene between Yukie and Itokawa meeting up in Tokyo after not seeing each other for three years - it's been eight years since we first met them - and the way he talks about the past with the music, framing them against a timeless cityscape, their postures simple and still, hers shamed... It's all such a memoir feeling.
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.
Made just one year after WWII ended, Kurosawa's 'No Regrets For Our Youth' explores the lesser-known part of Japan that protested against rising militarism in the 1930's, as well as acknowledges Japan's mistake for having chosen a path that led to such a devastating war, and for that it's a fascinating and important film. It also has an interesting story of a love triangle in which a young woman (Yukie Yagihara, played by Setsuko Hara) is pursued by two young men (Noge and Itokawa), whose personalities are established in the film's opening scene. They're all crossing a creek on stepping stones, and she needs help at the end. Both offer their hands. Noge then strides over confidently and picks her up, carrying her across with her legs flapping, to the annoyance of the conservative Itokawa. They all then run off up a hill together, carefree youth that they are.
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.
Kurosawa's first postwar film is a solid film, but really not yet the work of a master film maker. It's a melodramatic story about a rather spoiled woman who's drawn into politics when she marries a leftist, and ultimately is forced to become an adult in order to survive.
A film that could never have been done during the war for obvious reasons became the first film Kurosawa did after the war. Yukie is a pampered rich girl who spends her time playing the piano and relishes being pursued by two suitors, both of whom are college men. Itokawa is gentle and affectionate but too much so. There is a scene in which Yukie asks him to get on his knees and beg her forgiveness even though he hasn't done anything, and to her horror, he does exactly that. He is the safe suitor, ultimately becoming a successful prosecutor. Noge is the brave and romantic hero who is adamantly against the rise of Fascism and will thus pay the predictable price for his passions. Yukie does her utmost to forget and avoid Noge but is drawn to his magnetism so strongly she eventually ends up marrying him. The scenes of them being married are heartbreaking because of the terror she feels every time he walks out the door. Eventually Noge is imprisoned and assassinated by the fascists right before his trial. What Yukie does in response to that is heroic and amazing making her the greatest heroine in the entire Kurosawa oeuvre. A seriously underrated Kurosawa film.
These modern directors should watch Kurosawa. They could learn some things.
Interesting indictment of the Japanese government and how it kept its citizens under strict censure before and during the war. It's also a message to the people who lived through and supported the repressive regime.
This is one of Kurosawa's earlier works and as such I'm not really sure what to think of it. Unlike his war and pre-war films this is at least his vision we're seeing. The issues tie directly in with the ones Kurosawa had dealt with as a silent critic of the imperial regime. It's just that they're more overt than is usual for his films while at the same time being more opaque and unexplored.
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's only female protagonist is played by the amazing setsuko hara, who is essentially a female james dean with a longer career...and who isn't dead. point being: obsession worthy. kurosawa's direction is on fire for such an early point in his career, and the cinematography/lighting is always used to its best. there are a few weirdly-paced montages, but no complaints otherwise. but really it is setsuko hara that carries this movie. damn she can act.
An extremely impressive film. One of Kurosawa's finest. A love triangle is the vehicle for telling the story of a society sliding into fascism (the elite ruling both gov't and business) and the academic fight (protests and arrests) against the policies of the powerful and the resulting propoganda war against dissent. A healthy parallel can be found into today's 21st society.