The Search for Self-Identity in the Postwar Films of Akira Kurosawa

No Regrets for Our Youth

adapted and supplemented from

Christian Fuchs November 26, 1996


The picture is based on the forced resignation in 1933 of a professor at Kyoto University for his alleged Communistic thought. Takigawa Yukitori was the real professor's name; he goes by Yagihara-sensei in the film. [Interesting sidenote: the Minister of Education during the Kyoto University Incident was Hatoyama Ichiro, grandfather of DPJ leader Hatoyama Yukio who recently resigned the prime ministership after his party's stunning victory over the perennial ruling political party in postwar Japan, the LDP.] The Peace Preservation Laws of 1925 and 1928 banned any words, actions or writing that urged the abolition of private property or the imperial regime. It provided the legal basis for the mass arrest of radicals by the police during the 1930s (Prince, p. 68). The 1933 incident caused a sensation among the nation's intellectuals, and one of the professor's students was executed in 1944 for spying (Richie, p.36). No Regrets for Our Youth is Yukie's story.

[See also these comments:

In 1946, the year "No Regrets for Our Youth" was released, two significant events took place in connection with the incident depicted in the film, "Kyoto University Case (Takigawa Incident)". 

First, what was "Kyoto University Incident"? In 1933, Yukitoki Takigawa, a Professor of Law School in Kyoto Imperial University, was accused of spreading Marxist ideas through his lecture, "Leo Tolstoy's view on criminal law through 'Resurrection'". The Ministry of Education, headed by Ichiro Hatoyama, ordered the University to expel Takigawa. The board of University Professors refused it at first, but the pressure from the military-political machine was so immense that they finally gave in. Students expressed their protests to no avail. This was a forerunner of another incident of academic purge two years later, also resulting in expulsion of a Law School professor, this time of Tokyo Imperial University, Tatsukichi Minobe.

Takigawa, who was not a Marxist in any sense, was a scapegoat of political climate at the time. There were factions of extreme right wing thinkers and activists, rallying with military and conservative politicians during thirties. These fanatic activists exploited public fear against Communism to frame whoever they thought "too liberal". The torch bearer of this ultra right wing movement was Muneki Minoda, who initiated the waves of accusations against Takigawa and Minobe. 

The character of Professor Yagihara (Denjiro Okochi) in this film is loosely based on Takigawa, who regained his professorship in 1946 under Allied Forces' direction (1). The synchronicity must have been too obvious for the audience at the time. Another event of significance is not depicted in the film. Muneki Minoda, the fanatic activist, committed suicide in his birthplace earlier that year. In fact, activists and other political figures who were responsible for Yagihara's expulsion were never visible in the film. The presence of such political machines is only vaguely suggested through Itokawa (Akitake Kono) and a detective of Tokko (Japanese version of Gestapo), Hebiichigo (Takashi Shimura).

Another true story on which the film is loosely based on was the Sorge Ring Incident, and specifically espionage by Hotsumi Ozaki. The character of Noge (Susumu Fujita) is vaguely reminiscent of Ozaki, but the real-life spy had never revealed his activities even to his wife. Ozaki had no connection with Professor Takigawa or his family. In the film, the fictional relationship provides the tense backdrop for the story of Yukie (Setsuko Hara).



Yukie (Setsuko Hara) is the daughter of a college professor, Yagihara, (Denjiro Okochi) and in love with Noge (Susumu Fujita), one of her father's students. She is also friendly with another student, Itokawa (Akitake Kono). When her father loses his job as professor Yukie does not understand the full implications of the new Japan. Noge is obviously more progressive, more of a genuine leftist than is the "liberal" Professor Yagihara. The inability of the Kyoto University faculty and students to stand up to the Ministry of Education officials, the fascists and the militarists, pushes Noge and some of the other students toward "continuing the struggle" by dropping out of college and going underground. Presumably joining the communist party? Only when Noge is imprisoned does it begin to dawn on her what kind of a world she is living in. When, out of boredom, she flees to Tokyo to work as a secretary, she runs into Itokawa who tells her Noge is also in Tokyo. She finally visits Noge, and they begin a passionate affair which ends with their arrest; Noge dies in jail and Yukie returns to Kyoto with her father. Yukie decides to return Noge's ashes to his parents and to live with them. She endures a great deal of hardship, both from his uncaring parents and neighbors, who harass the traitor's family. Despite the hardship, she endures and triumphs. After the war, she returns briefly to Kyoto, but realizes her life is with the peasants, and she returns to them.

Kurosawa not-so-subtly introduces the carefree characters of the beginning of the film to the harsh realities of an increasingly militaristic Japan by having the picnic of the opening scene interrupted by the sound of machine-gun fire. Kurosawa also shows his clear disdain for those who plunged Japan into an impossible to win war by having one of the characters say, "Japan took Manchuria by force and colonized it." Even fifty years later Japanese leaders are reluctant to discuss the war in such frank terms, but Kurosawa stated it in a film just one year after the war's end.

Kurosawa uses editing to demonstrate the hectic activities of this time: the protests against the militarists organized by students and professors at universities in Kyoto. He mixes quick cuts and a variety of angles depicting scenes of the protests with scenes of the Education Minister and military leaders sharing a laugh on the golf course, followed by scenes of horses being used against the rioters and the rioters being hauled to jail. This montage makes it obvious that the student protesters are flirting with jail and expulsion; however, a scene of Itokawa at home being harangued by his mother depicts her appealing to his sense of duty to his family to stay in school. Japanese society places a heavy emphasis on on, a primary and ever-present indebtedness which one owes to Emperor, family, lord and teacher. It is not a monetary debt, but a debt of duty, of obligation. The repayment of on is absolute and unconditional (Ruth Benedict in Scheiner, p. 39-41) Unable to muster a strong enough sense of individual worth, Itokawa accedes to his mother's wishes and subverts his personal desires to please her and avoid bringing dishonor upon his family.

Several years later, Itokawa, now a prosecutor, visits the family. Itokawa, who has harbored feelings for Yukie, watches for her reaction as he announces he will bring Noge on his next visit. Yukie asks him not to, and says, "If I marry you, my life will be peaceful ... and boring. If I marry Noge, something dazzling awaits. But it terrifies me."

Realizing there is nothing for her in quiet Kyoto, Yukie decides to leave home and move to Tokyo. Her father goes to her room to try to dissuade her as she packs. He asks her to think of her mother. Unlike Itokawa, Yukie is determined. She discards on (one's obligations to parents and society) and decides to choose what she believes is best for her, not for her family. Yukie wants to start her life over again. A shot of Yukie catches her eyes gazing out, and as the panning camera follows her look we see a shot through her bedroom window. "I am just so disgusted with everyhting. I want to start life all over gain," Yukie tells her father as she looks out the window toward her future. "Living out in the world is not as simple as you may think," says her father. "But now, I am not even living," Yukie protests, "I want to go out into the world and see what it means to be alive."

In Kurosawa's late work, men and women alike are perceived as victims. Kurosawa has always accepted the bushidõ dichotomy - the choice between duty and love. To live is the motif of No Regrets for Our Youth, and it expresses in many of Kurosawa's films the necessity to choose between love between man and woman and love of humanity (Joan Mellen in Goodwin, p. 105).

Yukie yearns to discover if there is something more to her life than her family and the safe confines of their home. When Yukie learns Noge is in Tokyo, she decides to see him, and on the first visit to his office she goes all the way in. When an associate goes to get him from another room, fear of the future sets in and Yukie runs off. Returning again and again, she is always depicted standing on the street looking into the building where Noge works, afraid to see him, afraid of the future. Kurosawa shows the passage of time by offering a variety of weather in the scenes of Yukie standing on the street outside Noge's office. Finally, Noge runs into her as she is standing outside his office.

At their sidewalk meeting, she can tell he is holding a big secret close, but Noge will not share it with her. Similarly, Kurosawa never lets us know exactly what it is that Noge is doing. Yukie warns Noge about Itokawa, but Noge realizes already that arrest could come at anytime. He tells her he must do what he can. Fearing the dazzling fate that awaits her, Yukie runs off, but Noge catches up to her. Their love for each other finally admitted, they move in together. Wary of Noge's safety, she tries to find comfort in the words he utters when she asks him why he chooses the dangerous path: No regrets in my youth is his motto. Yukie will adopt it as her own when she moves to the peasant village, and thus Kurosawa gives us the name of his film.

Kurosawa spends several scenes -- without resorting to dialogue -- demonstrating that their time together is alternately joyous and sad. Remembering their 1933 picnic, they go on another, but Yukie runs off crying. At the cinema, Noge and the rest of the audience are laughing at the film playing, but Yukie is crying. She fears for him and his secret life.

After their arrest and during her interrogation, she stoically refuses to talk. The detective tells her to reconsider, and she is put into a cell to consider. The slow chimes of a clock give us a sense of the amount of time she is left alone to consider. Detectives talk to her again, and tell her Noge -- who had been trying to stop war -- wasted his time. A radio in the interrogation room broadcasts news of war with the United States and England as the camera gives us a shot of a calendar: December 8, 1941. (December 7th in the U.S.)

When Yukie decides to stay and live with them, Noge's parents do not trust her motives and think she is simply an upper-class woman from Kyoto come to make fun of them. As a shot of Yukie's sweat-drenched shirt is superimposed over a shot of her working in the fields, she repeats a mantra: I was Noge's wife. A sequence of shots let us know that she works many nights in the field. Yukie has begun her new life. Finally tiring of the nocturnal existence, she removes the barricades from the house and goes to work in the daylight. Noge's mother, who has still not accepted her presence, tries to stop her, but fails. Along the road to the fields, Yukie is taunted by children and gaped at by villagers. Kurosawa shows us the fear the peasants have for Yukie in these scenes, especially when a mother runs to the street to pull her child from the path of the approaching Yukie, as if her dishonor could affect the child. Yukie falls under the burden of a heavy pack on her back, and is laughed at by the villagers. Trying to rise, she falls twice more, and only manages to stand up when Noge's mother comes to her aid. They then go to work the fields together. As they work side by side, a voice-over of the spirit of the dead husband/son is heard saying, "No regrets in my life, no regrets whatsoever."

The honorable samurai's behavioral options included generous self-sacrifice, stoic perseverance and responsible consistency (Ikegami, p. 370-71). Honoring the spirit of her dead husband, Yukie resembles the old samurai as she continues to work despite illness and exhaustion; she is rewarded when she and Noge's mother look over the planted paddies. Their task is done. However, the villagers attempt to break Yukie's spirit: Kurosawa fills the screen with long and medium shots of devastated rice paddies, and close-ups of signs painted with the word traitor planted throughout the paddies. All of the rice plants have been ripped from the earth. She must start again. Rather than be destroyed by the outrage, Yukie exhibits a samurai's determination and begins to replant the paddies. Yukie must climb back down into the rice paddies and to scale a mountain of opposition. The price of this determined individualism is a profound loneliness that is the other side of individualism.

She is rescued from despair by her dedication to her dead husband's family and also to the broader community. Kurosawa defines human capabilities as open-ended and developing rather than sealed by sets of institutional and social roles. Human life is portrayed as potential (Prince, p. 117). Bushidõ, a term that came into common use during the Edo period (1600-1868), designated the ethical code of the ruling samurai class. It involved not only weapons and fighting skills, but also absolute loyalty to one's lord, devotion to duty and courage. (Kodansha, Vol. 1, p. 221) All the best qualities of the warrior have been spiritualized by Kurosawa in his art. The hero is always as strong as the ideal samurai. This strength may be physical, as in the samurai heroes of "Seven Samurai" ... but the protagonist may also be a person of ordinary or inferior physical capabilities, as is Yukie. Her great strength is spiritual rather than physical. Her will to create good is overwhelming, and this obsessive dedication, rather than any use of physical force, enables her to triumph (Prince, p. 118).

Yukie's dedication to her new life, her determination to complete the task of planting the fields, has led to her acceptance by Noge's parents despite their initial opposition to her. That same dedication and determination also allows her to triumph over an old friend.

Itokawa visits and tries to convince Yukie to leave the peasants and return to her life in Kyoto, but her zeal for life makes him feel small. Itokawa asks to visit Noge's grave, but she forbids it and refuses to show him where it is. Time is a slow but fair judge, she tells him. Itokawa, who has always chosen the safe path, walks away in disgrace.

Again Kurosawa tweaks the militarists with a slate telling us "The war is over. Freedom is restored." Yukie's father is a professor again, and Yukie visits her family, but will not stay with them. I set down my roots in that village, she tells them. By disregarding the centuries-old obligation of on Yukie has chosen for herself a path leading to self-fulfillment and personal freedom. She now knows she can do whatever she chooses to do, the dazzling future is hers to choose. At the same time, she has not become selfish. She embraces her new family and community, becoming an integral and accepted part of both. Through her own force of personality, Yukie has determined her destiny.

[P]eople are subject to what is called destiny. This destiny lies not so much in their environment or their position in life as within their individual personality as it adapts to that environment and that position.

(Kurosawa in Prince, p. 97)

Waga seishun ni kuinashi (1946) わが青春に悔なし

Setsuko Hara .... Yukie Yagihara
Susumu Fujita .... Ruykichi Noge
Denjiro Okochi .... Professor Yagihara
Haruko Sugimura .... Madame Noge
Eiko Miyoshi .... Madame Yagihara
Kokuten Kodo .... Mr. Noge
Akitake Kôno .... Itokawa
Takashi Shimura .... Police Commissioner Dokuichigo ['Poison Strawberry']
Taizô Fukami .... Minister of Education
Masao Shimizu .... Professor Hakozaki
Haruo Tanaka .... Student
Kazu Hikari .... Detective
Hisako Hara (II) .... Itokawa's Mother
Shin Takemura .... Prosecutor
Katao Kawasaki .... Servant

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Additional observations by Loftus:

It seems that a critical point in the film comes when Yukie has the conversation with her father in her room while she is hastily packing to leave home. She wants to leave Kyoto and go up to Tokyo. She is "bored" with life, she tells us. She is disgusted with her life; it lacks solidity, it lacks the excitement and adventure that might come from political engagement. She tells her father,

"I want to live. I want to start my life over again. I want to go out into the world and find out about life."

"The world is not a garden," he replies. "Life is not as simple as you may think."

"I feel like I am slowly dying. I am not living. I want to find meaning in life. I want to live." This is Yukie's response. She wants to live, as the existentialists would say, with authenticity. She wants to do something real, something meaningful. As Yukie tells Noge later, when she sees him again after a 3-year hiatus, she has changed jobs three times since she came to Tokyo, because her jobs have just been a way to put food on her table. They meant little to her. "I want something, some work, into which I can throw my entire self, my body and my soul. That's the kind of work I want." Noge turns away mumbling that this is not an easy thing to find, although he knows that he has such work, work with a initiative that is seeking a way to find a peaceful solution to the "China Problem" so Japan could avert a tragic war.

For fans of Kurosawa's great film, Ikiru (To Live), one can see the genesis of some of the ideas about the need to find meaning and purpose in life which drive that film.

Back to Yukie's departure from her home, her father tells her that if she is determined, she must go. It is worth it. But, he cautions her,

"You have to take responsibility for your actions. Remember, freedom is something you must fight for. Freedom requires sacrifice and struggle." (Or something like this. I don't have the exact lines.)

Is this the primary message Kurosawa wants his 1946 audience to think about, men and women alike? Democracy isn't just a matter of mouthing words or doing something trendy; it involves commitment and sacrifice. This, apparently, is they key to living a life with "no regrets."

In John Dower's Embracing Defeat, he writes about Maruyama Masao's notion of a "community of remorse" to characterize intellectuals who experienced "a joyous feeling of hope for the future mixed with deep regret for the past." (234) Perhaps Kurosawa was expressing his kinship if not membership in this kind of community of remorse because he titled his film "No Regrets," and has his character's reciting a mantra about wanting to live a life without regrets. But he and other intellectuals, artists and social activists must experience their fair share of regret for not being able to do more to stand up against the state, to resist the push toward militarism, aggression and war. To stand up for freedom and liberty when things got rough, this was something very difficult; few Japanese managed to do it in the 1930s.

Kurosawa's central character is a woman, Yukie, who in the beginning is portrayed as a flightly, impulsive, spoiled bourgeois woman who eventually learns the hard way the lesson her father tried to teach her: freedom requires both sacrifice and responsibility. The individual must be free and autonomous: an historical agent who can act for herself and for her community. But this freedom comes with a price; sacrifices must be made, hardships must be endured and there must be serious struggle in order to achieve true, authentic freedom or democracy.

Dower also writes about the role of Marxism in shaping the postwar discourse on democracy and freedom. Kurosawa chose to base his story around a real historical incident in which a professor was drummed out to Kyoto Universisty for his supposedly Marxist views but he was really a moderate who wrote an article about Tolstoy's view of criminal law as seen in Resurrection. In the early part of the film, Noge is depicted as being considerably more left than Yukie's father, Professor Yagihara. Noge disparages the professors as naive and too easily duped. He speaks of the need to "struggle" and of going underground once the students and faculty are defeated by the Minister of Education and his businessmen allies in the zaibatsu. But what ideology does Noge subscribe to exactly? Is he a Marxist? A member of the underground Japan Communist Party? The film leaves this vague. In Tokyo, Noge is part of the East Asia Problems Research Institute and, according to Itokawa, his work is relied on by businessmen and government policy makers. But he is apparently secretly pursuing another project which is a plan to peacefully resolve the China Incident so Japan did not have to continue to wage a war of aggression in China. But, again, we know little about this or with whom he might be working on this project. We only hear that ten years from now, the world will thank Noge and realize that he was a true hero and patriot. And this happens as Professor Yagihara formally recognizes Noge when he returns to the university to resume his teaching duties. He hopes that there are many more Noges sitting out there in the audience listening to his sorrowful words of praise for this man who paid with his life for the freedoms that the end of the war restored. Japan needs more Noges, more men and women who live their lives with courage and determination and are willing to make the sacrifices that freedom requires.


See also


See this excerpt from Kurosawa's autobiography as well:


No Regrets for Our Youth

THE TITLE OF my first post-war film became a popular phrase. After the release, one frequently
came across the usage "no regrets for our ------" in the newspapers and other media. But for me
personally the feeling is the opposite; I have many regrets about this movie. The reason is that
the script was rewritten against my will.

This film was born amid the two great union strikes at the Toho studios. The first Toho dispute took
place in February of 1946, and the second in October of the same year. NO REGRETS FOR OUR
YOUTH was produced during the seven months between the two outbreaks. As a result of the victory
of the first strike, the Toho employees' union became very powerful, and the number of Communist
Party members among the employees increased. Their voice in matters of film production became
more important than before, and a Scenario Review Committee was formed. This committee
decided that the script for NO REGRETS required changes, and the film was shot from a rewrite. The
reason was not because of any offense found in the content of my script, but because another
script based on similar material had also been submitted to the committee. I felt, however, that although the two scripts were based on similar material, they treated it in entirely different ways.

The result, I was sure, would be two entirely different films. Anyway, this is what I said before the Review Committee, but my opinion was rejected.

When the two films were completed, members of the Review Committee said to me, "You were
right. If we had known they would turn out like this, we would have let you shoot from your first
script." This was the height of irresponsibility. Playwright Hisaita Eijiro's first script for my film was
such a beautiful piece of work that it still pains me to remember that it was shelved at the hands of
such thoughtless people.

The second draft of the script for NO REGRETS was a forced rewrite of the story, so it became
somewhat distorted. This shows in the last twenty minutes of the film. But my intention was to
gamble everything on that last twenty minutes. I poured a feverish energy into those two thousand
feet and close to two hundred shots of film. All of the rage I felt toward the Scenario Review
Committee went into those final images.

When I had completed the film, I was so agitated and exhausted I couldn't evaluate it with a cool
head. But I was convinced that I must have made something very strange. The company arranged
a screening for the American censors. They sat talking among themselves while it was being shown,
so I was all the more certain that I had failed. But then as the film went into its last twenty minutes
a hush fell over the group, and they began to gaze at the screen with deep concentration. They
looked as if they were holding their breath right up until the end title appeared on the screen.
When the lights came on, they all stood up at once and reached out to shake hands with me. They
praised the film to the skies and congratulated me warmly, but I just stood there amazed.
It wasn't until after I left them that I really began to feel that the film had succeeded.



See Vicent Canby's discussion from the NYT:

Because of the passage of time, the Kurosawa movie operates on several levels that didn't exist at the time it was produced. There's not a frame of this film that is not informed by our awareness of the body of work that the then comparatively young (36) director would go on to create. Then, too, one is acutely conscious of the conditions under which ''No Regrets for Our Youth'' was made.

In 1946, the Japanese film industry was under the close scrutiny of the American military occupation forces and, like Japan itself, was struggling to make some sense of the catastrophic war that had just been lost and to find some psychological as well as economic identity.

The story of ''No Regrets for Our Youth'' is just the sort of thing that would have appealed to the people at the Allied headquarters in Tokyo (who were so fearful of militarism that even samurai films were discouraged). Its subject is the struggle of a small group of freedomloving intellectuals against the fascist militarists who led Japan into Manchuria and China in the 30's and finally into war with the United States in 1941.

To Japanese critics and audiences in 1946, ''No Regrets for Our Youth'' might well have looked like hindsight of the most opportunistic sort. Yet the film's continuing impact says more about the force of the Kurosawa talent than it does about the film's politics, which could have been learned at Stanley Kramer's knee. The performances are rather simple and uncomplicated, unlike the film itself, which, in telling a heroic story, also manages to raise some disturbing questions about the nature of a democracy imported from the West along with swing music, short skirts and Coca-Cola.

This is not to underrate the drama, which is principally about the emotional liberation of one pretty, spoiled young woman, but to emphasize that Mr. Kurosawa is incapable of making anything as simple as a straight propaganda film.

From the Criterion Collection materials:

Postwar Kurosawa

By Michael Koresky


As Japan was coming out of World War II, Akira Kurosawa was coming into his own as a filmmaker. And this was hardly a coincidence: though he had made a name for himself as a promising popular craftsman at Toho Studios during the war, Kurosawa later said he didn’t feel he could express himself as an artist until the censorship restrictions of that era had been lifted and he could take the new Japan as his subject. Devastated by the human and material losses of the war and facing widespread homelessness and economic collapse, the now Allied-occupied Japan became the canvas on which this trained painter would make his mark as a filmmaker.

For Kurosawa, social commitment and visual artistry would always go hand in hand, although this particular phase of his career, from right after the war until the mid-fifties, would see him tackling more directly the pressing issues of contemporary Japanese life than ever again. In between 1946’s No Regrets for Our Youth and 1955’s I Live in Fear, Kurosawa would become an international sensation, all the while creating a body of work that dealt, either straight-forwardly or through metaphor, with the struggles of his fellow citizens.

All of Kurosawa’s wartime films were affected by censorship, no matter the content—from personal projects like his masterful debut, Sanshiro Sugata (1943), a classically heroic master-pupil narrative, to assignments such as the overt propaganda film The Most Beautiful (1944), about women helping the war effort. Postwar American occupying forces had their own review board, of course, but its far-less-restrictive guidelines, encouraging the glorification of democracy and freedom, were much more suited to Kurosawa’s political ideas. His first postwar project for Toho was indeed a great fit in this regard: a narrative of national collapse and recovery, No Regrets for Our Youth is a sweeping tale of antinationalist revolt whose central quote, “there is sacrifice in the struggle for freedom,” becomes its guiding principle.

Opening idyllically, with a joyous band of college students whistling along a riverbank as they climb a hill that overlooks Kyoto University, the “garden of freedom,” No Regrets for Our Youth stands out among Kurosawa’s films of the period in beginning before the devastations of war—in the peace and prosperity of early 1930s Japan. And alone in Kurosawa’s body of work, this film aligns itself with the point of view of a female protagonist: Yukie, played by the brilliantly expressive Setsuko Hara. Moving from bourgeois complacency to social activism, Yukie—the daughter of a conservative university professor and eventual wife of one of his students, an anti-imperial intellectual from a peasant family—is the film’s emotional anchor, guiding us through the political and cultural turmoil of Japan from 1933 to 1945.

No Regrets for Our Youth
was shot during a series of workers’ strikes at Toho, at a time when the left was resurgent in Japan. And the film’s glorification of radical activism and peasant workers (with low-angle shots evocative of the socialist realism of Alexander Dovzhenko) reflects both Kurosawa’s political spirit and Japan’s newfound social freedom—a multifaceted concept that Kurosawa would continue to examine in the decade to come.


No Regrets For Our Youth

Waga seishun ni kuinashi | わが青春に悔なし

// Retrospective: Akira Kurosawa

“Flowers on the knoll, blazing crimson red
Plants along the river, a bright, glowing green
I sigh in delight at the flowers of Kyoto
The moon rising high above Mount Yoshida”

Yukie is the daughter of Professor Yagihara of Kyoto University. She spends her days with old Yagihara’s students, prancing in the fields and streams around the capital, singing songs like the one above. In 1933 the students of Kyoto University feel compelled to react to state attempts to suppress academic freedom. They appeal to Yagihara, who was once a bit of a romantic revolutionary, but he is old, tenured and doesn’t think it wise for his students to get themselves expelled by demonstration. A handful of riots settle the issue. Many students and professors are given the boot and some arrested, including Ryukichi Noge, probably the most intelligent and single-minded of the bunch. Yukie won’t admit to herself that she’s in love with him.

The screenplay is rather weak. The idiom ‘academic freedom’ is bandied about as if it’s something elemental for the characters, possessing a necessity and potency like water. If the students feel pressed to give throat to their revolutionary impulse, it’s always a cry for ‘academic freedom’. It’s even humorously mirrored in the newspapers, a headline reading something like “Academic Freedom Crushed” following the riots. Kurosawa claims the script was rewritten against his will, as the film was produced between the two great Toho strikes of 1946, but as for how the original and the finished product differ, who can say? Playwright Eijirô Hisaita wrote the original script, and he would go on to help write Kurosawa’s The Idiot, The Bad Sleep Well and High and Low. The gist of this is imperial Japan, gearing for war and closing the doors and windows to creative and intellectual outlets that might undermine the planned hegemony of Southeast Asia.

What’s strong is the acting, particularly from postwar beauty Setsuko Hara as Yukie and Toho regular Susumu Fujita as Ryukichi Noge. Setsuko successfully embodies a character who evolves: from a mercurial object of worship in her youth to a fragile married woman and finally to a noble ascetic. Not only does Yukie age credibly over the course of thirteen years, but Setsuko’s physiognomy changes in accompaniment: her outer ferocity gives way to an uncertain sensitivity, but by film’s end there is a strength and moral resolve that glows in her aspect. Noge is underplayed deftly by Susumu Fujita, who seems capable of changing his appearance with little effort. Simply by removing his glasses and school uniform Noge ages ten years. His bittersweet romance with Yukie is played with restraint; neither of them seems to be saying what they mean. Noge, through the realization that his mortal clock is ticking, wishes to say everything and nothing—nothing because death looms. And Yukie doesn’t wish to acknowledge that her Eden is a false one. She knows full well that the danger of living with Noge is what drew her to him yet she doesn’t want him to realize that she understands the total aspect of his work. The pathos of this doomed relationship is well-depicted by all.

Unfortunately, much of the film is buoyed by sentimental sobs, as if the sight of tears in a character’s face is enough to induce them in the audience. Probably another result of script conflicts. Things get more interesting when Yukie resolves to visit Noge’s parents after his death. Ostensibly she’s there to bring them his ashes, but her real intention is to make them understand the gravity of their son’s life and of his death as she now understands it. She earns their respect gradually through toil in the rice fields, in spite of the taunts of “traitor” and “spy” hurled at her repeatedly by the neighboring children. These taunts culminate in the total decimation of the Noges’ rice fields shortly before harvest. Kurosawa has definitely borrowed from the Soviet model here for Yukie (recalling Eisenstein’s Marfa Latkina from Staroye i novoye aka Old and New) as well as conforming to the Soviet realist demand for selfless, collective toil. Yukie dusts her stepparents off as well as herself and starts all over again.

When she returns home to Kyoto she is a changed woman. She recalls her University days with fondness, recalls a time of innocence before the weight of the world and the war changed her generation forever. In revisiting the fields and streams a group of students pass by singing her old school song and Kurosawa gives us a nice bit of montage from the film’s beginning. Then the final shot and perhaps the film’s best has Yukie riding a truck into the sunset, arm-in-arm with farmers who once were a step below her station. Kurosawa’s individualist impulse would grow in the years to come, but Yukie too is a character that acts upon her native instincts, choosing the hard life and its rewards over the one projected for her. She undergoes a process of illumination, of self-discovery, perhaps the principle theme of all the themes of Kurosawa’s cinema.


Kurosawa's one female-centered movie by Stephen O. Murray

"Waga Seishun ni Kuinashi" (No Regrets for Our Youth) is more interesting as a phenomenon than enjoyable as a film. What makes it interesting:

(1) Released in 1946, it is arguably the first major film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It is, without doubt, his first postwar movie, and

(2) one of the first Japanese movies passing the censors of the US ("Allied") occupation of Japan, which is all the more striking, because,

(3) it celebrates a leftist opponent of militarism and fascism during the early 1930s. That the MacArthur regime permitted commemoration of what appears to be (but is named as) a communist is outright startling.

(4) The movie is the closest to be an autobiographical film by Kurosawa (up until his last, Madadayo). Kurosawa was a leftist opponent of the fascist militarism of the 1930s, and shocked his parents by first becoming an art student and then undertaking an entry-level job in the film industry. (The autobiographical component is limited in that the movie focuses on a female student who shocks everyone by going to work as a peasant with the parents after he is killed in police custody.)

(5) The film focuses on a woman, unlike any other Kurosawa film.

(6) The actress in the lead role is Hara Setusko , closely associated (by appearing in many movies directed by) Ozu (though also memorable in Kurosawa's adaptation of The Idiot). The mother-in-law is also played by Ozu regular Sugimura Haruko. (And, although the camerawork is fluid, many shots are from angles even lower than Ozu's camera setup.)

(7) Shimura Takashi was already in the Kurosawa repertory company (and in many, many other Kurosawa movies, with the biggest parts being in "Ikiru," "The Drunken Angel," and "Seven Samurai").

(8) The influence of prewar Soviet cinema, particularly Eisensteinian montage and treatment of seething crowds, is very obvious, along with some Dovzhenko agrarian romanticism (particularly characters lying down, looking at the sky, and the blurred farm labor sequences, especillay Yukie staggering along carrying a basket).

The DVD about which I originally epined had absurd and often unreadable subtitles over a poor print. The Criterion "Postwar Kurosawa" Eclipse release remedied these two problmes. The remaining one, which is Kurosawa's fault, is that the first hour is boring: very talky with only a few interesting visual touches (the piano playing and the montages of Yukie (Hara) and of Tokyo, when she moves there. *Yeah, yeah, I'll provide some plot summary eventually...)

It was an effort of will to get through the first hour—in which idealistic young students are shocked when Yukie's father is not allowed to lecture any more at their university (ca. 1933 Kyoto), and there is a triangular relationship between Yukie and two of the students (who look like cadets in their uniforms). Yet another strangeness of the subtitles is that Noge, the bespectacled zealot (played by Fujita Susumu), and Itokawa, the more pragmatic (and eventually mustachioed) suitor of Yuki and friend of Noge (played by Kôno Akitake) are called "Wild" and "Hun."

Noge comes to dinner with Itokawa, Yukie, and his parents (after the school has been shut down altogether and the student groups banned) and says he is going off to China (the just-conquered Manchuria). Yukie has something of a mad scene and decides to move to Tokyo. After the passage of a few years, she runs into Itokawa and meets Noge again. Both are successful in financial institutions of some sort. Yukie is a sort of economic analyst.

After they marry, Itokawa is seized in a restaurant by Police Commissioner "Poison Strawberry" Dokuichigo (Shimura). This and the following scenes of Dokuichigo sneering (Shimura was so good at that!) and interrogating Yukie bring the movie to life (very fraught life, but not longer boring).

Noge dies (offscreen) in police custody and is posthumously branded as being a spy. Yukie is released, plays the piano in obvious hysteria, and decides to go live with Noge's parents, peasants whom she has never met. They are, not surprisingly, discomfited to have a city girl on their hands, but Yukie throws herself into tilling the fields in ways that would have made Maoists happy when they emptied the universities to "re-educate" students during the 1960s.

Hara is impressive in playing the young woman determined to make herself a model peasant daughter-in-law. The project seems crazy to me, but apparently seemed virtuous to Japanese. It is definitely cinematic and includes some signature Kurosawa scenes of slogging through the mud and heavy rain...

In a rushed coda after Japan loses the war, Noge and Yukie's father are rehabilitated and honored. Yukie, both in the fields, and restored to upper middle-class life, regularly repeats Noge's mantra "No regrets in my life, no regrets whatsoever"—which also seems to me borderline crazy, in that he was tortured to death and Yukie suffered greatly as the wife of a much-maligned "spy" (etc.!).

Hara is convincing aging some twenty years, slogging through the rice paddies and destroying her pianist hands. She could do much more than Ozu ever asked her to do! Both Yukie and Noge anticipate the long line of Kurosawa individualists (often embodied by Mifune Toshiro), refusing to do what others expect them to do.

For me, the first great Kurosawa movie is "Drunken Angel" (1948), which teamed Shimura and Kurosawa (as, respectively, a slum doctor and a tubercular, alcoholic gangster). It also had much social commentary about it (and sympathy for slum-dwellers trying to get along). There are some striking scenes and sequences in the second hour of "No Regrets," but getting that far is a daunting challenge, and the bewilderment induced by the titles recurs (though there are long stretches of working the fields with no talk to mangle in translation in that last third of the movie).

Kurosawa told Donald Richie that the story of Noge was inspired by a real-life case (Ozaki Hidemi), but that he was asked to leave the subject to a younger director, so had to substitute the second half. This is disconcerting in that I think the second half is much the better one! (The fired professor is based on the firing of Takikawa Yukitoki from the University of Kyoto faculty in 1933, and Ozaki was a student of Professor Takikawa, outraged by his dismissal.)

Less disconcerting is Kurosawa's memory that he "believed that the only way for Japan to make a new start was to begin respecting the 'self' [instead of the usual submission to expectations and the group/family). "I wanted to show a woman who did just that." In this, he definitely succeeded (though I vigorously dissent from Richie's claim that the movie is "perfect"). Kurosawa also told Richie that "it was only here and in 'Rashomon' that I ever fairly and fully portrayed a woman... [one who] lived by and was true to her feelings." As Richie notes, Kuorsawa showed this "sternly and uncompromisingly."


In addition to the longer-ago historical movies Kurosawa went on to direct (Rashômon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, Red Beard, Kagemusha, Ran), Kurosawa made a number of socially conscious movies about postwar Japan, of which my favorites Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Ikiru, High and the Low; the available DVD of The Bad Sleep Well is plagued with  transfer and subtitle problems). I have also recommended the documentary biography Kurosawa.

�2006, Stephen O. Murray