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Thursday, September 8, 2011

ICHIBAN UTSUKUSHIKU / THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (1944)

It’s wartime!, and the Lady Volunteers at Nippon Kogaku Optical are in a funk. Production quotas for the men have just been doubled, but the women are only being asked to boost output by 50%! How insulting! That’s the set-up for this early Akira Kurosawa pic, a straightforward bit of propaganda he remained oddly fond of. Maybe it was the camaraderie that cast & crew developed shooting on real factory locations, living & eating dormitory-style with the workers. Maybe it was because Kurosawa met his future wife in the cast. It couldn’t have been the banal little story about shared sacrifice & ‘can-do’ spirit. It’s more dreary than uplifting, and noble as a Soviet Union motivation lecture. A lens grinder skips her mother’s funeral to stay at her station. Another dear soul, a guilt-ridden section leader, pulls an all-nighter to find a miscalibrated lens that’s gone missing. That sort of thing. Sacrifices, made in secret, but resented for not being adequately acknowledged. What a busy beehive of passive/aggressive victimization! Technically, it’s well made and not too painfully jingoistic, but who wouldn’t prefer to see Bettys Hutton & Grable do their Hollywood homefront routines with jivey musical numbers & solid laughs added in to lighten the patriotic twaddle.

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