Synopsis: Twenty-Four Eyes
Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
See also this brief biography
Oishi Hisako Sensei--Takamine Hideko--aka Koishi-sensei or Miss Pebble
1. Okada IsokichiSonki
2. Takeshita Takeichi
3. Tokuda KichijiKichin
4. Morioka TadashiTanko
5. Aizawa NitaNikuta
6. Kawamoto MatsueMatchan
7. Nishiguchi Misako---Miisan
8. Kagawa MasunoMachan
9. Kinoshita Fujiko
10. Yamanishi Sanae
11. Katagiri Kotoe
12. Kabe Kotsuru
In the idyllic, rural Inland Sea island of Shodoshima
in 1928, a group of children run towards a laden caravan in order to bid farewell
to their kind and affable sensei (teacher) who is leaving the village to be
married. A young, motivated teacher named Hisako Oishi (Hideko Takamine) has been recruited from the industrialized side of the island
to serve as her replacement, but the villagers are skeptical of Miss Oishi's
suitability for the teaching position in the remote peasant community, observing
that the sophisticated and well-educated teacher commutes to the local school
on a fast, new bicycle (a rare sight in the poor, working class village) and
wears a modern, Western suit. Even the reserved senior teacher (Chishu Ryu)
at the elementary school humbly remarks "Why'd they send such a good teacher
here? The principal is a funny one." The novice teacher has been entrusted
to the care of twelve first grade students - seven girls and five boys - the
innocent and endearing twenty-four eyes who would look to Miss Oishi for guidance
during their formative first year of school.
The parents are quick to notice Miss Oishi's unusual teaching style: preferring
to address the children using their nicknames, learning about each student's
family, singing children's songs, playing outdoor exercises in the open forest,
teaching them traditional folksongs instead of prescribed school anthems. Her
unorthodox methods generate gossip within the community, a tension that is exacerbated
when a storm damages the coastal home of a student named Nita (Kunio Sato),
and a lighthearted moment with the children brings the frustrated and desperate
ire of another coastal resident. The school days pass uneventfully until one
afternoon in the playground when some of the boys decide to play a practical
joke on the unsuspecting Miss Oishi and unintentionally cause a disabling injury.
In a tender and amusing episode, the children decide to visit Miss Oishi, hungry
and ill prepared for the long and physically demanding journey, and the puzzled
teacher encounters the children crying uncontrollably as they walk along the
bus route to her house.
The happy reunion inevitably leads to reconciliation and community acceptance,
and a promise to return to the school when she is ambulatory. However, Miss
Oishi's prolonged recuperation prevents her from making the arduous nine mile,
50-minute bicycle trip to the village school. At the urging of her protective
mother (Shizue Natsukawa), Miss Oishi reluctantly agrees to transfer to the
combined, upper grade elementary school near her home, where she is able to
commute by bus.
However, Miss Oishi will again reunite with her class five years later, amidst
the austerity and toll of a global economic depression, Manchurian conflict,
and red scare, as the students, now adolescents graduating from elementary school,
struggle to retain hope and optimism in an environment ravaged by poverty, misfortune,
increasing militarism, and political uncertainty.
Based on the Sakae Tsuboi novel, Twenty-four Eyes is a haunting, compassionately
realized, and profoundly affecting portrait of humanism, innocence, and the
personal toll of war. Filmed from a low camera angle, and using exquisitely
composed crane, long, and medium shots, Keisuke Kinoshita visually conveys a
sense of distance that, in turn, reflects the innocence of the children's perspective
and the seeming insularity of the villagers: the long bicycle commute; the children's
outdoor activities singing folksongs; Miss Oishi traversing the empty school
yard after being admonished for broaching the subject of communism in class.
Note the increased frequency of close-up shots as the students leave the nurturing
environment of the classroom to face the austerity and turmoil of the outside
world, in essence, defining their individuality and character as adults: the
encounter with Matsue (Sadako Kusano) at a short order restaurant; the graduation
ceremony; the shot of the schoolboys, now enlisted men, marching off to war.
The final, bittersweet image shows the beloved, aging sensei, slowly traveling
through the inclement weather of the unpopulated, rural countryside, momentarily
stopping to allow a bus to pass through the empty road, before resuming her
lonely journey home - a poignant reminder of the dignity, perseverance, and
tenacity of the human soul against the travails and disillusionment of profound
and irrevocable change.
Twenty-Four Eyes: Growing Pains
By Audie Bock
One of the most awarded films in Japanese history, Twenty-Four Eyes was already a nostalgia piece when Keisuke Kinoshita directed it in 1954. For a Japanese audience just three years out of the Allied occupation following the heartrending devastation of World War II, this quietly moving story, based on a book by Sakae Tsuboi and spanning two decades in the lives of an island schoolteacher and her first twelve elementary school pupils, was seen as a celebration of the positive family values and scenic beauty that defeat and privation could not destroy. After years of propaganda and stifling censorship, it was rejuvenating for viewers to watch innocent children play, laugh, sing, cry, and grow up through the eyes of a fresh-faced, smart, and affectionate young teacher, played by the beautiful and indomitable Hideko Takamine. Twenty-Four Eyes was undoubtedly a woman's film, honoring the endurance and self-sacrifice of mothers and daughters trying to preserve their families, and providing a cathartic cry, or “three-handkerchief” moviegoing experience. It lives on, however, not as a melodramatic tearjerker but as a meticulously detailed portrait of what are perceived as the best qualities in the Japanese character: humility, perseverance, honesty, love of children, love of nature, and love of peace.
Kinoshita, a classic case of a movie-crazy kid who ran away from home to get into the business, had already been making films for over a decade, following a long internship as a cinematographer, when he took up Tsuboi's book. Master of many genres, he and his team had since the war made a number of hugely successful tragedies, love stories, and period films, as well as a pair of zany comedies starring Takamine as “Carmen,” an artiste stripper with country roots. What Kinoshita had not been good at, in the eyes of the wartime military government, was promoting the army suicide corps (the kamikazes). In his first films, he couldn't help showing mothers who were distraught instead of proud that their sons were going off to die for their country, as in 1944's Army. In the new freedom of the postwar era, the best-selling book Twenty-Four Eyes gave Kinoshita the screenwriter ample material to come out in the open with his pro-family, antiwar views; by this time he was an established director, and Shochiku Company would acquire the rights he wanted. Watching Twenty-Four Eyes, everyone could empathize and openly acknowledge the pain they had suffered silently through the war, and with Takamine's Miss Oishi they could rejoice in having survived to reunite with loved ones.
Instead of wallowing in the rubble of the population and industrial centers of Japan, Kinoshita takes his down-to-earth, day-to-day story to the lovely Shodoshima, the second-largest island in Japan's Inland Sea. The picturesque rural landscape has been virtually untouched by the bombs and airplanes of World War II, and we see nothing but farmers and their animals, quarry workers with their hammers, and fishermen with their nets and boats. Kinoshita's cinematographer, brother-in-law Hiroyuki Kusuda, employs diagonals, light-dark contrasts, gentle tracking shots, and long setups with expressive close-ups to show the people in perfect harmony with their idyllic mountains, fields, and shorelines. The editing, which mirrors the sequence of the actual filming, has a natural flow—Kinoshita and his generation conceived and executed every shot in order, so the rough cut was done as the image entered the camera.
For the Western viewer, Kinoshita's choice of music may raise an eyebrow. But if the themes of “Annie Laurie,” “Auld Lang Syne,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” played on guitar, flute, violin, and harp, seem un-Japanese, it is our ears that are a little off. It's necessary to detach ourselves from the cultural associations we impose on music. The Western tunes and Western instrumentation are just as ordinary to the Japanese ear as the old Japanese folk songs the twelve children sing with their teacher. The easy transitions the composer, Kinoshita's brother Chuji, makes between East and West are no more unusual than the use of Ravel and Beethoven in Akira Kurosawa's film music. To use classical Japanese instrumentation as background in a contemporary drama, i.e., a nonsamurai film, would sound far more artificial than adapting international standards.
The story employs a favorite device of Japanese popular drama: people aging on-screen before our very eyes—from young adulthood to old age for Miss Oishi, and from childhood to maturity for her students. She arrives at the tiny village school in April 1928, and although she comes from just across the bay, she shocks everyone with her modernity, commuting on a bicycle and wearing a suit instead of a kimono. Talking to her mother about the villagers' unfriendliness, she reveals that it is not an air of superiority that motivates her: she lives nine miles away, too far to walk, and since it's impossible to ride a bicycle in the constricting drapery of a kimono, she has recut and sewn an old kimono into a suit. She retains this apologetic and humble demeanor always, even when criticized in front of her students.
Kinoshita builds Miss Oishi's relationship with her students not through classroom drudgery but through outdoor excursions, song, and playfulness. One incident causes such severe injury to Miss Oishi that she has to give up her bicycle and her distant job. Her students, bored at the hands of their new, unmusical male teacher (Chishu Ryu), long for her so much that they set out without food or water to find her. Miss Oishi rescues them from a bus on her way home from a doctor visit, and her mother serves them a huge meal of noodles at their home. The next day, packages of rice, beans, dried fish, and other staples arrive at Miss Oishi's home from the parents of the rescued pupils. On crutches, the teacher impulsively travels to the village to thank each family in person. Kinoshita treats this display of traditional Japanese politeness and humility with gentle humor, as Miss Oishi mixes up people's gifts and some confess they gave nothing at all. Her acceptance in the village is thus achieved through the love the children give back to her.
The story progresses at a leisurely pace, accompanied by Chuji Kinoshita's lilting score, Kusuda's reverent cinematography, with no incidents of great drama or peculiarity. Five years pass while Miss Oishi teaches at the big school closer to her home, and when she gets married to a boat captain, her former students come to check out the bridegroom. The Japanese invasion of China and the Great Depression ensue without much affecting the simple lives of the islanders. Only the songs change, to sadder classics reflecting on the loss of comrades in battle.
The war reaches the little island. More and more boys are drafted and come back only in processions of ashes carried in white, cloth-bound containers by their grieving mothers (the Japanese draft age went down to fourteen near the end of the war). Meanwhile, Miss Oishi sees a colleague arrested as a Red for a book of essays he has used in class. Shocked, she confesses that she too has been using it. The principal urges her to be careful and above all to say nothing against the war. Eventually she leaves teaching because she can't make herself encourage boys to become soldiers, and she's labeled a coward even by her own elder son. In the course of the war, she will lose her mother, her husband will be killed at the front, and her little daughter will die in an accident. When August 1945 comes and the emperor speaks to the nation over the radio for the first time to announce the surrender, she seems to be alone in rejoicing that no one else will die because of the war.
The resonance of Twenty-Four Eyes for audiences then and now is that Miss Oishi speaks for countless people the world over who never want to see another father, son, or brother die in a war for reasons they do not understand. Kinoshita's antiwar message is aimed more directly at Japan than the films of an Ozu, whose war-widow daughter-in-law in Tokyo Story calls herself selfish for not thinking about her dead husband every minute, or a Kurosawa, whose major antiwar film of the period, I Live in Fear, focuses on the United States' use of the atomic bomb. Even Mikio Naruse's 1955 Kinema Junpo and Mainichi Film Concours best film winner Floating Clouds shows the Pacific War and its aftermath more in terms of individuals exploiting each other than as a governmental policy that hurts the country's own people. The isolation and chronic poverty of the Shodoshima community portrayed in Twenty-Four Eyes bring this point home with all the more vehemence. When Miss Oishi tells boys who were her students that she likes ordinary shopkeepers or farmers better than the higher-status military men, it is her way of saying she prefers life over death. Her sentimental tears as an older woman finding the children of her past students in her classroom when she returns to teaching after the war are totally justified, for here is innocent young life again.
Kinoshita presents a teacher of the type every child would cherish, because she cherishes her students. She looks at the whole child, takes into account his or her home situation, consoles, advises, encourages, and nurtures. She accepts the criticism of parents and administrators without complaint, but she never abandons the child. Her treasuring of these relationships is an expression of the kind of person Kinoshita himself was in the world of Japanese cinema. After Twenty-Four Eyes , Kinoshita would continue to turn out two, and sometimes three, films a year for two more decades. He enjoyed celebrating the fortitude and optimism of Japanese women in particular, and in such films as The Ballad of Narayama (1958) and The River Fuefuki (1960) he experimented with color, genre, music, and classical stage effects. He retained his criticism of authoritarianism and hypocrisy, whether it was of governments exploiting their people or parents stifling their daughters (1964's The Scent of Incense). His crew became his family, and he cherished those with whom he worked—to the point where he was the go-between for the offscreen marriage of his assistant, Zenzo Matsuyama, to his versatile frequent leading lady Takamine. Grace and playfulness imbued his work and his manners. Of all the film directors I have interviewed the world over, he is the only one who ever sent me a dozen red roses as a thank-you.
Another very recent post on the Criterion Collection Page:
Saturday, April 24, 2010
Twenty-Four Eyes (1954) - #442
"If you ever feel like crying, come to my house. We'll have a good cry together."
In the annals of Japanese film history, 1954 represents a pinnacle of achievement. I won't say that it was the greatest year in that nation's cinema (because I just haven't seen enough to have a strong opinion) but it sure looks ready to take on all challengers. In this series, we've already seen Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, still wielding massive influence over 50 years later, a timeless epic. Then there's Sansho the Bailiff, a superior, virtually revered masterpiece from Kenji Mizoguchi. Rounding out Japan's "Big Three" classic directors, we could include Ozu's Tokyo Story . Although that film was released in November of 1953, it probably made a large and lasting cultural impact the following year since people didn't all flock to the theater on Opening Weekend and promptly forget about the movie a week later like they do nowadays. Those are three career-defining films from the three most widely-admired auteurs of Japanese cinema! Add to that another, regrettably non-Criterion film, Gojira (better known in the USA as Godzill a) and you have a rather imposing foursome. But when it came around to handing out the awards for Japanese movies in 1954, there's one title that even though it's not well-known nowadays, and would be even more obscure if it hadn't been released by Criterion, still cleaned up on all the competition: Twenty-Four Eyes .
No, Twenty-Four Eyes is not the translated name of some grotesque monster rising up to challenge Godzilla, nor is Twenty-Four Eyes the horrific bounty pursued by a roving band of savage samurai warriors gone berserk. Rather, they are the collective gaze of twelve innocent, adorable schoolchildren who look plaintively to their beloved school teacher, Miss Oishi (which means "big stone"), whom they nickname Miss Pebble because her diminutive stature fails to match up with her family name. This sweet, sentimental melodrama serves us a local-scale, domesticated epic telling the story of what happened to these characters over the course of twenty pivotal years of then-recent history, from 1928 to 1948. It doesn't require an intimate knowledge of the cultural context to realize that, for Japan, those two decades were as tumultuously tragic as any similar stretch of time in their history. Twenty-Four Eyes played an important part, nearly a decade after the conclusion of World War II, in leading the nation through the cathartic reckoning process it needed in order to come to grips with its recent past and become the modern Japan that we know and love today.
The story of Twenty-Four Eyes takes place on Shodoshima, a picturesque, rural island in Japan's Inland Sea. The lack of urban development and the island's rustic way of life are presented in an opening montage, tranquil scenes of people at work using basic tools, wearing traditional garb. We're quickly introduced to a column of children marching down an unpaved road, singing a song, the first of many, many such sequences! If the sight, and more importantly the sound of these young "children's choirs" chirping away melodiously tends to get on your nerves, consider this your forewarning: Twenty-Four Eyes is not the film for you. The occasional use of this device that we see in Kurosawa and Ozu films becomes a huge component of Twenty-Four Eyes - I don't think I'm exaggerating if I estimate that probably about one-third of the film's audio track involves kids singing. Add to that the frequent inclusion of familiar Western instrumental tunes like "Auld Lang Syne" and "What a Friend We Have in Jesus" and I think you get a sense of how director Keisuke Kinoshita intends to work his audience's emotions. He wants to bring out the tears - he practically insists on it, and relentlessly pursues his goal to the point of risking overkill (and I'm sure that many will conclude he crosses that line somewhere in the last 30-40 minutes of the film, as one grief-inflicting crisis after another piles on to afflict our long-suffering protagonist.) Let me put it this way: if the weepy trajectory of a film like Magnificent Obsession takes you on a journey you'd just as soon avoid, then steer yourself clear of Twenty-Four Eyes.
All that emotion is stirred up for a commendable, laudable purpose. We are, after all, addressing the theme of healing on both the personal and collective level after enduring excruciating trauma of almost unimaginable proportions. We follow Miss Oishi through her career, first winning the affections of her students while humbly enduring the scornful suspicions of their parents, who view her as "tough" and "modern" because she rides a bicycle from her home to their village (about an hour's ride away) and dresses in a Western style. She's an intelligent, perceptive woman who takes sincere interest in her students as individuals, teaching them in accordance with her informed, progressive (but not politicized) principles. Other than a few very brief introductory scenes, we rarely see her and the kids cooped up in a classroom. Instead, her approach to education is to lead them on long walks across the gloriously unspoiled landscape, along winding trails through cherry orchards and along the seashore, singing merry songs of Old Mother Crow and her precious babies, and the haircut that Mister Crab gives to Mister Rabbit. This first third of the film is definitely the most magical portion, probably the segment I would pop into the DVD player whenever I'm in the mood for a kawaii overload. Hideko Takamine, the actress playing Miss Oishi, is fetchingly beautiful in these scenes and it's easy to see why the children would bond with such a delightful teacher.
However, her willingness to inject so much fun and merriment into the educational process only raises suspicions with the parents, who fret about their kids getting the wrong kind of ideas, not enough discipline, not accustomed to the toil and drudgery that awaits them.
One afternoon, an innocent schoolboys' prank results in an injury that forces Miss Oishi to ultimately give up her teaching assignment in the village, since she can no longer ride her bike into town. While she recovers at home, the children realize how much they miss her, especially as they adjust to the tutelage of an older male teacher, played by familiar Ozu lead Chishu Ryu. He's not very musical, easily frustrated and uninspiring. In a charming demonstration of youthful naivete, the kids concoct a scheme to sneak away and visit their dear Miss Pebble even though they lack a clear idea of where they're going or how long it will take to walk to her home. The group makes its way along the road, wandering for quite some time, with their parents only gradually realizing that their little ones have gone missing, until a chance encounter leads to a tearful reunion between teacher and pupils. What could have been a ridiculously maudlin scene in the hands of a less skilled director actually turned out quite effective, in my opinion at least. The tenderness of feeling felt very genuine and I have to credit the child actors for their ability to convince me.
This first soulful outburst sets the stage for numerous similar separations and reunions, and I could go on at length outlining the emotive ups & downs that follow as the years pass on screen. The children grow up a bit, rejoining Miss Pebble when they graduate from their village school and start taking the bus to the larger middle school where she transferred to after recovering from her injury. Tensions develop as Japan moves further into its militaristic, aggressive mindset with the expectation that teachers will focus on developing loyal, patriotic children willing to follow orders without question. The pressure to replace lighthearted folk songs with stern nationalistic anthems begins to sap the energy out of Miss Oishi's style of teaching, and things only get worse as government censorship and oppression lead to arrests and book-burnings. She recognizes the futility of protesting these developments - her reservations about the direction her country is moving would hardly influence the opinions of the men in charge, and besides that, her temperament is resolutely humble and self-effacing as befits her role in that culture, so open confrontation of authority is out of the question.
Besides the lovely cinematography and fascinating (though probably idealized) look back at pre-war Japan, I think Twenty-Four Eyes achieves its most remarkable insights in skillfully portraying the dilemma of conscience that many Japanese citizens, particularly women, must have felt throughout the 1930s as they saw the harshness, cruelty and waste incurred by the government's imperialistic ambitions but were powerless to change. The undeniable tragedies of young people killed in battle, thwarted in ambitions or irreversibly harmed due to the other deprivations suffered through times of economic depression and war are presented in memorable, evocative ways as Miss Oishi does her best to bring small measures of solace to her students as they each cope with their respective setbacks. And of course, she had to endure her own share of familial and relational crisis as things really come to a head in the last half hour. But if there is a basic flaw in the film, it may be that the catalog of adversity is explored too thoroughly, as if every last tear has to be squeezed out of the hankie before we can finally draw the story to its close. (And even though this is a long film - 2 1/2 hours - I think the payoff at its conclusion is poignant and memorable enough to reward a viewer's patience.)
Of course, I offer this tentative criticism from the perspective of a man who's lived in relative affluence, comfort and ease for most of my adult life - certainly nothing I've been through can compare with the kind of mind-blowing losses that so many Japanese citizens suffered during the decades portrayed on film. It would be cruel of me to dismiss Twenty-Four Eyes for any perceived excesses of sentimentality, because that kind of stance trivializes the experiences that made this film so necessary and valuable to its Japanese audience at the time. Though it never portrayed the immediate horrors of destroyed cities or shell-shocked soldiers, Twenty-Four Eyes opened the door for even more direct engagement with the events and aftermath of the war than had occurred previously in Japanese cinema. In the next few years, films like The Burmese Harp , Fires on the Plain and The Human Condition would raise the graphic intensity in showing what that generation of young men experienced. I'm not sure those films would have been made, or would have found a receptive audience, if Twenty-Four Eyes hadn't cleared a path for them in the cultural consciousness.
Some random thoughts and comments:
The farewell to childhood, a post-war view of a teacher's and her twelve students' experience in prewar and wartime rural Japan; also, the traditional patterns
of childhood and early education in Japan.
Music provides the emotional and thematic background of the film, Twenty-Four Eyes. Framing the opening and closing is the song, "Aogeba
Totoshi," the "Farewell Song" or "Song of Gratitude," traditionally sung by students
to their teachers at graduation. In the film the song is the graduation farewell
of the young students to their dearly loved sixth-grade teacher, Miss Oishi,
who had also been their first-grade teacher in their small, remote village elementary
school. The song is also their farewell to childhood. [Mizushima plays this very same farewell song on his harp as he stands outside the barbed wire fence and sees his comrades the final time for before they depart for Japan. The tempo is slow, the melody sad and mournful. As soon as they recognize the tune, they know Mizushima is saying goodbye to them Very moving, and it sets the tone
for the film's finale, the reading of Mizushima's letter aloud on shipboard by the captain. The sea is calm and soothing but the emotions run deep.]
Appearing periodically throughout the film is a melancholy children's song about a Crow flying by and the children watcing her and hearing her cries ask, "Crow, why do you cry so?" The song is actually called "Nanatsu no ko" (or The Seven Children) because the Crow's response is that she is a Mother with seven babies waiting for her at home in her nest. For the Japaense lyrics, their English equivalent and a link to a website where you can hear the song, click here.
The setting of the novel and film is 1928 through 1946, on Shodoshima, a small island in Japan's Inland Sea. For most of the twelve children, who graduate
from middle school in 1934, their childhood has been a period of rustic simplicity
and poverty, and a time of innocent tears and joys. But the world that lies beyond their peaceful community, a world that they and their
teacher pnly vaguely sense, is a world rushing towards inevitable war. We see this
time and time again when writing appears across the screen to describe the passage
of time, and the narrator speaks of key events relating to the outside world and to Japan's road to war. Manchuria, China, Shanghai, the Pacific, are all mentioned. The young
people's lives are being swept into a current of history over which they have no control. After
the war, the survivors will look back on that period of childhood as a bittersweet memory of something they have forever lost. For the author of the 1952 novel, Sakae Tsuboi, and the director of the 1954 film version, Keisuke Kinoshita,
the postwar view of prewar Japan is an attempt to come to terms with the Asia-Pacific War, Japan's devastating defeat, and the suffering of the people. Was it necessary? Was it avoidable? These questions hang int he air but are never quite asked not fully answered. The issue of Japan's guilt in bringing about the war and causing widespread suffering throughout
Asia as well as within Japan is never directly confronted. But there are numereous events and lines of dialogue that raise these kinds of questions obliquely. At the very least, Miss Oishi's character represents
the few dissenting but ineffective anti-war voices in prewar Japan. She is a teacher,
a wife and a mother who can only quietly protest, endure, and shed tears for the victims of the war. When she visits with Masuno's mother she clearly indicates that she is hamstrung and cannot really come to her rescue. Her life choices must be negotiated within the family. She would like to say more; she would love to advise the mother to let her daughter find her own path in life. But she is constrained by social convention, her position. She cannot go there but by her emotionally laden words, we know what she truly feels. If her voice is heard, it is by postwar Japan in its renunciation
of war and its embrace of pacifism. The message of Twenty-Four Eyes, then,
is that of a return to the historic and traditional roots of Japanese belief in the innocence, sanctity, and promise of childhood.
Although the novel and film tell a story of Japan's tragic involvement in theAsia-Pacific War, it is told through the eyes of children and their sensitive, courageous teacher. This is the key to the success of both works in involving
the audience; it is also the basis of the approach used in this unit to bring students
into the intercultural experience. The story is about Japan and Japanese children,
of a time past, but it is also about a timeless Japan's love and celebration of children and childhood. It is about today's Japan and, with some vicarious projection
and imaginative translation, it is also about the reader's and viewer's own childhood
and early schooling, at any place and at any time.
The children, when we first meet them, are first graders, brimming with shyness, tears, and playful laughter in their first experience of school. They are just beginning the journey which will culminate in the beautiful and sad moment of graduation farewell. We identify with them at the beginning of their school
journey and early in their life journey. We can't know how these journeys will come
out: whether the students will be successful or unsuccessful in school, whether they
will follow and fulfill their dreams or meet with disappointment and disillusionment,
whether they and those close to them - parents, family members, and friends
- will become ill and possibly die. This sort of reflection is for adults and teachers.
And so this part of our consciousness identifies with the young teacher, Miss Oishi,
and her devotion to her first class. All we can do is to observe and care and wonder
as she nurtures the children and the promise of their lives and dreams toward graduation and farewell.
As Miss Oishi takes her first roll call, we hear the students' names and nicknames, see their faces, and perhaps learn a little about them from remarks and reactions. But at first they are only twelve young children with faces and backgrounds
that blend into a single image and generalization. We see them as simply "twenty-four eyes." Gradually, as the novel and film unfold, the children's faces and
stories emerge with clearer individuality, and we are able to follow their separate
but related stories...Of the twelve, one of the seven girls will die of tuberculosis, one will be
sold off into servitude and apparently end up a prostitute, and one will vanish with
her impoverished family.
At the end of Twenty-Four Eyes five of the seven girls will attend their
reunion with Miss Oishi, who once again is a teacher in the remote village school teaching three of their children. Of the boys, three of the five will die in the war
and one will return blind. We will observe only their growing up, their departure for the
war, and the return of the few survivors; we will never learn how or where those others
died. A provocative question is what nature of soldier they became and whether they
too participated in the barbarism of some of the Japanese military. But this, too,
we will not learn. The limitation of our point-of-view is that of their teacher,
who saw only their childhood innocence and fragility as they were swept into history
and their individual fates.
Some interesting lines:
Principal to Miss Oishi:
"Teachers have a duty to build a citizenry that will serve
Miss Oishi talks to her son, Daikichi, around the dinner table on two occasions:
Daikichi: I would like to be bigger so I could enlist.
Mother: You want to die? After I worked so hard bringing you up? You want me to cry for the rest of my life?
Daikichi: You’d be the mother of a patriot.
Mother: I don’t want you to die. I just want to be an ordinary mother. All I want you to be is just a human being (tada no ningen). Just an ordinary person who values living.
Daikichi: Nobody else talks like that.
Mother: They may not say it but they think it.
Daikichi: My teachers don’t.
Mother: That’s why I quit.
Daikichi: Coward! You’re a coward.
Mother: I don’t care if I am. I love my children.
[Around the dinner table Mrs. Oishi talks with her son, Daikichi, about the end of the war.]
Daikichi, there is no need to worry about it. Children can now be children again.
Mother, didn’t you hear that we surrendered?
I heard. It’s good the war is over. It’s the end of the killing. The survivors will come home.
We didn’t die for our country.
And that is good.
Are you glad?
Stop talking like a fool, Daikichi. Your father was killed. He won’t ever return.
Aren’t you going to cry because we lost, Mother?
I cried for the dead. I cried and cried.
[End of that discussion around the dinner table.]
Another brief notice:
Twenty Four Eyes, 1954 Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita This best-loved
human drama recounts the lives of 12 children and their inspirational teacher
as war takes its toll upon them all. A dramatic masterpiece that brought an
entire nation to tears.
The title "Twenty-four Eyes" refers to the 12 pairs of eyes belonging
to the young students of a small branch school on Shodo Island in the Japanese
Inland Sea. The story unfolds in the spring of 1928, when Hisako Oishi (Hideko
Takamine) takes over as the new teacher at the local grammar school. At first,
the small village does not accept the young schoolteacher who wears Western
clothes and rides a bicycle to school. It doesn't take long, however, before
the pupils, their parents, and the entire village fall under the spell of this
special teacher. However, trauma does not lie far. The peaceful lives of Shodo
Shima contrast the war occurring just over its horizon. This is truly one of
the best-loved human drama films, which brought the nation to tears.
Selected as No. 1 film of 1954 by Kinema Junpo outshining the "Seven
After you have finished watching the movie, click here
to see a summary of the characters and what becomes of them.
by Freda Freiberg
Freda Freiberg is a freelance critic, lecturer and researcher on Japanese cinema.
Twenty-Four Eyes/Nijushi no hitomi (1954 Japan 155 mins)
Source: NFVLS Prod Co: Shochiku
Dir: Keisuke Kinoshita
Scr: Keisuke Kinoshita, based on Sakae Tsuboi's novel
Phot: Hiroyuki Kusuda
Art Direction: Kimihiko Kusuda Music: Chuji Kinoshita
Cast: Hideko Takamine, Hideki Goko, Yukio Watanabe, Makoto Miyagawa, Takero Terashita, Kunio Sato
Keisuke Kinoshita was one of the most prolific postwar directors at Shochiku's Ofuna studios, producing 42 films in 23 years, and then going on to a career in television. He served a long apprenticeship as a cinematographer and as an assistant to senior Shochiku director Yasujiro Shimazu before he was allowed to direct his own films. As regular members of his production team, he employed his brother Chuji, a musician, and his brother-in-law Hiroshi Kusuda, a cinematographer, and together they formed a very active and creative family team.
Kinoshita is noted for his films about the suffering of women, especially mothers, and the strong performances of female stars in them. Kinuyo Tanaka, Yoshiko Kuga, Haruko Sugimura and Mariko Okada all gave great performances in his films but it was Hideko Takamine, who also starred in many of Naruse's postwar masterpieces, whose name was most commonly linked with his.
In the late 1940s and early 1950s, Kinoshita made some biting social protest films attacking feudal attitudes to marriage and education in prewar and wartime Japan – including a powerful film set in a girls' school, a sort of Japanese Mädchen in Uniform (Leontine Sagan, 1931). He experimented with a variety of dramatic and visual styles, and achieved success with comedies as well as melodramas. Towards the end of the war, he made a disturbing film out of an unsettling mixture of nationalist polemics, documentary material and women's melodrama (Army, 1944); in 1951 he made a popular comedy starring Takamine as a Tokyo stripper who shocks her country family when she goes home for a visit (Carmen Comes Home); in 1953 he made a full-blown maternal melodrama punctuated by insertions of newsreel footage (A Japanese Tragedy); while in 1958 he made a highly stylised theatrical version of The Ballad of Narayama starring Kinuyo Tanaka. Despite this active and fruitful experimentation with different genres and styles, one can note that, after the end of the Occupation, his movies generally became more picturesque and lyrical.
Twenty-Four Eyes is an adaptation of a novel by the female writer Sakae Tsuboi. Set in a picturesque island in the Inland Sea, and covering a 20-year time span embracing prewar, wartime and early postwar Japan, it centres on the relationship between a primary school teacher and the 12 island children in her first class. (The 12 children explain the 24 eyes of the title). In the course of the film, she faces problems of acceptance by the children and their parents, then ideological criticism from the educational authorities, then wartime privations and losses in her family and among her pupils. The hardships of the young girls in her class, forced by economic privation and/or death of their parents to leave school and support their families, are stressed; as is the destiny of the young boys to become cannon fodder. The film concludes with a tearful reunion between the bereaved teacher and her original pupils, whose ranks are sadly depleted by the suffering of the past decade.
The film evinces a characteristic attitude towards World War II among the Japanese – an attitude of sorrow rather than remorse. In the early years of the Occupation, the Japanese cinema briefly gave voice to anger and protest against the sins of prewar and wartime leaders, who had “misled” the nation, but by the 1950s this attitude had given way to a more amorphous wallowing in sorrow and a general feeling of victimhood. Made soon after the end of the Occupation, when memories of the war were still fresh, Twenty Four Eyes functioned both as a symptom of these prevalent attitudes and an aid to their consolidation; it was welcomed by domestic audiences, giving them the opportunity to indulge in mourning. The film was not only a popular one, it also garnered the award of Best Film of the year from the national film critics. When you consider that 1954 was a year of prodigious achievements in the Japanese cinema – the year of Mizoguchi's Sansho Dayu and Crucified Lovers, Naruse's Late Chrysanthemums and Kurosawa's Seven Samurai – it was an astounding coup for Kinoshita. (The Garden of Women, a potently disturbing women's melodrama directed by Kinoshita earlier in the same year, was awarded second place in the Best Ten list.) It appears the critics, as well as the public, responded to a certain Zeitgeist in which a soft and diffused backward look on their own recent past was more highly valued than masterful accomplishments in the period film and the women's melodrama.
Twenty Four Eyes remained a favorite with Japanese audiences for decades after its production. Its use of music and cinematography alone is conducive to an indulgence in nostalgia. The film is punctuated with choruses of well-known children's songs, appealing to the Japanese audience's sentimental memories of their own childhood; and, for modern urban Japanese, the picturesque island setting with its small old-fashioned village community arouses nostalgia for the furusato, the old home town, where life was simpler if more arduous, apparently timeless and changeless. Both triggers of nostalgia, childhood and furusato, are brought together in the children's song “Furusato”, sung repeatedly during the film.
The heroine, Miss Oishi, played by Takamine, is a teacher who is modern in dress and educational practice but also very maternal towards her pupils as well as being a mother herself. She voices some critical opinions, but these had become commonplace in postwar Japan, given the benefit of hindsight. Even in the prewar setting, she is not threatening; on the contrary, she is supremely comforting, a loving and loyal friend to her past pupils, and fellow sufferer in the trials and tribulations of the times they live through. She may be more educated and middle class than they are but that does not make her exempt from suffering and loss. She, like the villagers, suffers wartime privation and loss of a child and a husband. They are all scarred and aged by the war. As in wartime ideology, the Japanese are represented as more united than divided. Differences of class, gender and even political opinion are finally rendered less important than a common experience of suffering. The audience is invited to empathise with Miss Oishi and her pupils, and to shed copious tears (1).
© Freda Freiberg, September Endnotes
1. For further recommended reading see, Keiko McDonald, “Kinoshita and the Gift of Tears: Twenty-Four Eyes”, Cinema East, Associated University Presses, East Brunswick, 1983, pp. 231–254; and Audie Bock's chapter on Kinoshita in her Japanese Film Directors, Kodansha International, Tokyo, 1978, pp. 189–216.
Another review is here.
Japanese Title: Nijushi no hitomi
Director: Kinoshita Keisuke
Writing Credits: Kinoshita Keisuke, Tsuboi Sakae (novel)
Cast: Goko Hideki, Takamine Hideko, Watanabe Yukio
Color: Black and White
Year Released: 1954
Runtime: 154 min
1. Review by Wong Lung Hsiang
Rating: **** (out of four stars)
It was with high expectations when I watched this 1954 antiwar classic, especially having seen the rather disappointing 1987 remake, Children of the Island. The Japanese title of the film remained the same for both films, and it literally means 'twenty-four eyes'.
The story starts off around 1928, on an idyllic rural Japanese island, and centers around a newly recruited progressive school teacher, Miss Oichi. Initially the children's parents and her colleagues are concerned about her unconventional style, both in wearing Western clothes, addressing students by the nicknames rather than their surnames, and teaching traditional folk songs inside of the proscribed anthems. However, the students warm to her, and they play mischievous games and tricks on her. Unfortunately one of these pranks causes her to break a leg. The students decide to pay her a visit while she is recuperating at home. They do not realize how far they have to travel, and they lose their way, and start to cry. To their relief they meet up with the teacher near her home.
The story builds in emotional intensity as we follow the fate of the teacher and her students over the course of the next couple of decades. There is the looming militarism as World War II approaches, and the students, now in their adolescence, are recruited into the army, as is her husband. Gradually she loses both the boys as well as her own husband. As the war progresses, the island descends into further depression and poverty.
There is a haunting scene which takes place many years later, in which the teacher visits her sick student at her humble, bleak cabin. In the 1987 remake, it takes place on a stormy day, and both of them exchange information about the tragic fates of the classmates.
However, in the original version, this corresponding scene takes place on a sunny day, where some children are marching outside the cabin, accompanied by a patriotic tune. Through their exchange, we learn that some girls are actually living a better life, while the boys have yet to be enlisted. They will in the next scene, and only two of them survive the war, one of whom becomes blind. As a potential tear jerking scene, it remains exceptionally calm, until the later part when the sick student talks about her own ill fate, and to enhance the atmosphere, we hear the sounds of insects getting progressively louder. The camera then shows a close-up of the group photo of the teacher and the 12 students when they were in grade one, and scans each face. Instead of a direct antiwar protest, as in the remade version, this scene emphasizes the illusion of these children's early dreams.
Director Kinoshita, is known for his excellent choice of locations and beautifully photographed scenery (in the only other film of his that I have seen, Big Joys Small Sorrows , he brings us around to over 20 lighthouses all over Japan). In Twenty-Four Eyes, he demonstrates his strength of compositions in several scenes, such as the one featuring the 12 young students with their teacher. He seamlessly blends the breathtaking albeit degraded photo into the little island in Seto Inland Sea.
Two and a half hours, and I did not feel time passing by, such was the intensity of the film. I generally consider myself quite immune to crying while watching movies. But this film is one of those rare exceptions, where I welcome being manipulated by the film-maker. It is a film that everyone must watch.
2.Touted by many critics as the most tear jerking Japanese films of all time. Keisuke Kinoshita took his time to unveil the pathos buried within this exceptional work. Modern films almost never do that anymore.
It begins in happier times, and Twenty-Four Eyes was framed in mid to long-distance shots. One thus finds it hard to feel for any one individual. But this stylistic decision was purposeful, for it helped to first establish the idyllic tranquil of the movie's place and time; a small coastal town still untouched by the ravages of what's to come. In this universe, the folks led simple lives. Most of them were not yet calibrated by the country's rising tide of industrialized modernity. Most were not/ would not be ready to cope with its impending social upheavals.
Let's start with some chirpier ramblings first. This village was a place where excitement would rise on the sighting of bicycle riding women (the teacher, played by the luminous Hideko Hirayama [Takamine??]), where even such slightest of stirs would rip through the grapevine. This is a very close knit community.
With broad simple strokes, Kinoshita also managed to paint a collective mood of contented joys and youthful idealism between the teacher and her first twelve students. Via episodic presentation of their communal activities, from light-hearted classroom chats, to jovial sing-a-long field trips, the bonds that bound these souls would help set in motion the melodramatic wheels of this unstoppably tear-jerking film.
By the film's halfway mark, Twenty-Four Eyes kicked up its dramatic gear. With an increasingly corresponded framing of closer proximity shots, illuminated faces were put onto the characters we once viewed from a distance. But the happy smiles were slowly wiped from these faces. There were changes in the country's indoctrinated campaign for militarism. There was incremental stifling of free thought, in a land bent on instilling fears and subservience. There were sickness and deaths amongst friends and families (some by the ravages of war, some not). Children were put up for adoption and families were literally uprooted by poverty. Students were giving up their studies for all sorts of reasons; family obligation, blindsided patriotism or just plain helplessness. Free spirited idealists (e.g., the teacher), would be pounded into submission by events beyond their control. Young girls who sacrificed their happiness for the love of their families were crushingly, not loved in return. Young boys were shipped off to war, full of misguided allegiance to country and glory, bearing false hopes of returning victorious.
How ironic then, that a generation of boys would die, never to become grown men, that girls would blossom into womanhood, only to discover their aspirations shackled by a patriarchal society. Those were all signs of the times.
By the closing chapters of this unbelievably melodramatic film, all the devices that could be used to wring tears out of its audience, had been exhausted. It's indeed a marvel how Kinoshita accomplished it all with such wild abandon. In fact, for those people who are easily put off by dated melodramas, you'd best be warned; people cried a lot in this sweeping weepie.
Twenty-Four Eyes is a great film in my eyes, despite no water flooding them. I have absolutely no qualms about why it was named the most tear jerking Japanese film of all time. For unapologetically, this film placed the hearts of the Japanese people firmly in its mind. Made and released in the early 50's, less than a decade after the trauma of World War II, Twenty-Four Eyes must have seared the still raw psychological wounds of its intended audience. Its subject matter and thematic content spoke to them; from children of the lost generation to the parents who had lost these children. From people who were once ravaged by poverty, sickness, war and loss, to people still imprisoned by these compounded disenchantments.
Viewed as a social document, Twenty-Four Eyes might thus have served as a balm to those still haunted by that recent past. With grateful tears, the audiences shared in the collective journey of this good-hearted movie. Assimilating with their own personal experiences, this cathartic tale might have helped in mending the hearts of millions. It might have gently coerced a kindred population of broken lives into finding their respective closures. When a film accomplish such a feat, it becomes more than a movie. It becomes a pure and humanistic work of art.