Monday, February 18, 2008

76. Film Review #3: Akira Kurosawa: ICHIBAN UTSUKUSHIKU (The Most Beautiful) (1944) (Part Two)

A detailed analysis of the above film. Part Two.

Just as the train passes, another one, going in the same direction, passes on the tracks closer to the rest of the girls. Cuts back and forth between the girls, jumping up and down, excited.

Finally the second train passes, and the safety bars are raised. The girls rush towards Shan.

Cut to factory. Sound of grinding lenses. Shan is in the foreground, two other girls in the back. One of them turns to Shan:

"Never mind? Take a rest."

"It's OK." The camera pans down her leg until we see her cast, which covers her entire foot, except for her toes. Fade to black.

Shiu and worker. Shiu is doing laundry, worker sweeping. He says:

"The children are quiet recently. We can't hear their laugh."

"Right. When Shan comes back. Everyone will be active again, that's OK."

"They are also tired." Cut to Shiu profile, scrubbing clothes.

"Very tired. The hands are burnt."

Cut to a wide shot of girls working. A yawn. Cuts to tired-looking girls.

"Kwong what's time now?"

"What are you doing? Always look at the time."

"Thanks."

"Get it back again?"

"Disgusting, always hurt others."

"Don't be anxious. Anxiety can't work." Suddenly, the sound of grinding glass. The girls scatter back to their stations.

"Who?"

It is Siu (I think). Her lens is shattered in pieces. She sinks down, crying.

Cut to a girl, with her back to the camera, staring out a window, as a train passes, left to right.

"Really want to take a train home." Cut to a wider shot, new angle, with another girl in the foreground, polishing a lens, and the first girl in the background.

Cut to a row of men working at microscopes. But we hear a female voice:

"Mum!" Every man's head turns, as the camera dips down to reveal Watanabe. She glances at the man next to her, but immediately goes back to looking through the scope. Dissolve to

The graph. A girl's voice:

"Work hard." The line is moving up and down in small increments.

Dissolve to Watanabe. "Harder. Harder." She passes the ball. Back to volleyball.

"Ten to 16. Harder."

Siu: "I can't play this game."

"It's like playing football."

"I don't care. You guys play." She slams down the ball.

Watanabe: "Kong!"

VERTICAL WIPE (top to bottom) #7

Band instructor: "How's the guy who plays drum?" Cut to girl. He's screaming:

"It's not rhythm, try again. Three, four ..." The band plays. Dissolve to

The graph. The white line dips sharply. Dissolve to Yoshikawa, Ishida and Shinda (the men on the left and right with their backs to the camera, looking out the window; Ishida facing camera:

"Just need something more ..." Yoshikawa turns around.

"This is the last constraint ..." Ishida now moves towards the window as Yoshikawa turns around. " Shinda, back to camera:

" ...But it's always tiring. The body is ruined ..." He turns around. "Perhaps we can sustain it." Ishida turns around.

"Really no way out. They proposed to set the goal higher. I want to fulfill their will. I am afraid that they'd just work if they are constrained. This is to left them recover confidence. Anyway it's the first time to challenge." They all have their backs to the camera, as Shinda continues:

"I have an idea. The critical moment mentioned by the head."

Yoshikawa: "I think we'd be optimistic." Ishida turns to listen.

"This may be strange. I am confident of the children."

"Why?"

"They have an excellent captain. Tao is an outstanding captain. And Shiu is an excellent teacher ..." A knock. A female voice (off-camera), as all three men face camera:

"Shiu is looking for you." Cut to Shiu, looking out a half-open window (camera outside window, looking in). Reverse angle, wide, as Yoshikawa enters.

"Sorry to keep you waiting. Do you want to work at the workshop?" He notices her bags are all packed.

"I want to have a vacation."

"Please sit down ... this is a critical moment now. If you are not here, the children can't work." Shiu is still standing.

"Tao is still here."

"It's a pity for her to take all over."

"Just for a few days." She sits.

"Where are you going?"

"To Ling's home. Here is a letter from her. She said she's recovered, but her parents didn't let her go. The morale will be high if she can come back. It's the same as the time Shan returned. For Ling and for everyone."

"I am not good enough, let's go." He gets up and opens the door. "Please invite Tao to here."

"No thanks. Just give her Ling's letter." She puts the letter on the table. "Now it's still enough time for catching the express train." She bows.

"Good. I like the way you trust your pupils." Close on Shiu.

"Since they are all good guys."

Cuts of the girls at their work stations. They all seem to be unhappy.

"Tin, why are you stunned? You look, the base is dry." The girl bows.

"Sorry."

"Sorry can't do anything. The products will be finished if it happens again."

"Kong! Enough!"

"I can't ignore it."

"She has apologized."

"However ... she'll delay the progress." This girl drops a lens. The other girl scolds her:

"You look." Cuts back and forth as the girls look anxious and worried.

Cut to Watanabe, working with the men, looking through her scope. Someone approaches her:

"Tao, shit." Watanabe motions her to leave the room. Camera pulls back, revealing sign:

"Don't come in." They come out the door.

Watanabe: "You can't come in."

"However ..."

"Don't argue." Watanabe walks the girl down the hallway. "This is not my own job. It'll delay the progress if something goes wrong."

"But Kong just had a quarrel with Fok. Please be the middleman."

"What happened?"

"In fact ... "

"Time to get off. Talk about it later." Watanabe looks pained. "My result is bad today."

"Sorry to disturb."

"No sorry. Take it easy. Be patient. I'll solve their quarrel later." Watanabe walks away. Close on the girl, watching her go. Cut to Watanabe entering the room, where she sits and goes back to work.

VERTICAL WIPE (top to bottom) #8
.
Yoshikawa sitting on a stool, putting his boots on, the large group of girls behind him.

"Thanks,," a girl is saying, bowing.

"Thanks. We depend on you."

"Hai," the girls answer in unison.

"You need to be alone for a few days."

It's OK, anyway there'll be prizes from Ling."

"You don't pretend not to care. It used to be famous of fox ..." The girls ooh and aah. He continues:

" ...When it gets dark, the foxes come out ..." He makes some little fox movements and noises. The girls laugh.

"Don't bull shit."

"Just to see how can they go into the campus ..." He's playfully trying to scare the girls.

"Don't pretend good. Catch them to eat." Another girl:

"The grandmum said the foxes were powerful."

"How can a technician be so misleading?" Laughter. Another girl:

"You are having a conflict." Yoshikawa gets up.

"Right? Why didn't Kong and Fok talk?" Close on those two, looking sheepish.

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the right) #2

The camera is panning around the group. A voice:

"You are so naughty. Don't care about others' feeling. Stand in the garden and recall what you did."

Camera finds Watanabe, in a kimono, sitting:

"They are so tired."

"I am not tired."

"Don't be that."

Watanabe: "You haven't combed up for a few days."

"And became more impulsive."

Watanabe: "To be hot tempered for little things."

Her back is to us. "You can say what you want." She turns her head around.

"Anyway, who initiated the case? It's you, just to ask the others to work."

"Kong ..." a girl tries to interrupt.

"It's Tao for her own sake."

"How come?"

"You are wrong." She stands. "She put all the blame on me. Just to protect whom she likes."

"Kong, you say again." We see it is Watanabe speaking. "I am not biased? I haven't protect those I like?"

"Don't argue."

"I can't remember I have done that."

"Really talking the truth?" The camera holds on Watanabe for several seconds.

"Never do that."

"Let me count for you. You care about Shan specially. Don't let her work overtime, nor to do exercise. Just watch when playing the volleyball." Cut to Watanabe, sitting in silence.

"She seems admitted." The girls talk amongst themselves. Cuts back and forth between the girls and Watanabe, as she offers no defense.

"Tao, you say something." Watanabe sits, head bowed. "You must have reasons. Shan has been weak."

"That's right," says another girl. "Teacher needs to measure her temperature daily."

"Every time it's correct."

"Tao, say something." Back to Watanabe, her bowed even more. "Tao!"

Cut to a wide shot of the entire group.

"Tao, say something. Tao!"

"You stop!"

"I tell you ... I tell you the reasons. Don't misunderstand Tao."

"Hou!"

"I must say that. Honestly I have a fever every day. Only Tao knows this secret. I can't work if the teacher knows. So I asked Tao to keep this secret. You also don't tell others. Talk about it after the period."

"Everybody hears that." She turns to Watanabe. "Tao, you try to be angry. Let the anger run. No thanks. You can scold them."

"Today I can't," Watanabe half-whispers.

"Why? We all support you."

"I am not qualified."

"Why?"

"I feel disgraceful."

"It's not your responsibility."

"I know it'd happen. The teacher won't leave us alone. Ling can't imagine we'd quarrel. Just read Ling's letter for everyone." She takes the letter from her kimono and unfolds it.

"How are you teacher and classmates? Here is all snow everywhere ..." Slow rightward pan. "... My body is getting good after coming home. But my parents don't let me go, like what teacher said. The troops protect the country. How can we ignore? Sorry to give you troubles. I praise for you every day. I miss you very much. I can't forget the band and the work. And the pleasure life ..."

Dissolve to a dark, nighttime scene, outside a window. Tinkly music (celesta?). Someone slips out. She moves towards a spot, camera behind her, looking out at the mountain (you can see the target seen previously through the scope) and a full moon. An axial cut brings us much closer to her back. Cut to a profile shot. The tinkly music ends and we hear the sound of a train whistle. Cut to frontal shot, she's looking up. She slowly bows her head. Cut to previous shot from rear. She hears someone crying and turns around, startled. A girl emerges from a bush.

"Who?"

The other girl is crying. "It's me."

"I thought it's a fox."

"Fox?"

"What are you coming for?"

"I am sorry to you."

"It's all my fault."

"I need to say apologies."

"I should say this ..." Both girls weep. But to the first girl's feet.

"For example the garden ..." The camera begins a rightward pan of the ground. " ... The soil has our ancestors' blood. This is our land. It's running well. Our family ..." Camera stops on large sign. Axial cut. "... Is working hard ..." Cut close on the sign. " ... The children are playing without worries. The pets run and tell the joys. The horses are strong. The good smell of this land ..."

Dissolve to snowy landscape. A blanket of snow covers the foreground, with towering mountain ranges in the back. The narration continues:

"... Makes me recall the scene ..." Cut, deep snow covering everything in the foreground, icicles hanging from eaves of a house, huge mountains in back. " ... My childhood appears again. Walking on the land with bare foot ..." Cut to house, covered in snow. " ... To feel the love from mum. It's like going home ..." Cut to another angle, tall trees fill the frame.

" ... The soil has our ancestors' blood ..." Cut to a cluster of young boys playing in the snow. " ... This is our land."

The sound of a flute. Cut to another group of kids, some skiing. A tracking shot, and then a wide angle shot of the kids coming along a path, with someone walking in the opposite direction. We see her head turn ...

Cut to close-up. Shiu's head finishes turning, as she looks in the direction of the sound of the flute. Suddenly, the flute begins playing faster. Shiu smiles.

"Ling!" and she leaves the frame. Hold on the scenery for several seconds. Fade to black.

Ling opens a set of doors and runs into the room.

"I am back, I am healthy." She runs around in a circle. But the group doesn't utter a sound. Heads bow. A girl stands up.

"Where is teacher?"

"Of course he's back." They all rush out of the room, leaving Ling standing there, stunned.

Cut to Shiu, arranging the shoes. The group rushes over.

"What happened? All shit around, shit ..." She's arranging the shoes. " ... The water is freezing. What is the time now? It's three hours after the time to sleep. Tao?" She rises.

"Where is Tao?"

"Teacher, it's all my fault."

"It's our fault."

"I am the sinner."

"What happened?"

"Tao ... "

"How's she? Where is she?"

"She is still working." Quick cut to Shiu, shocked.

"A unfinished mirror is dropped. We found it last night."

Cut to what I believe is the previous scene at the train station when the group is waiting for Shan. As the train rushes by, Watanabe suddenly turns around and looks horrified. Cut back to the group.

"I shouldn't go to disturb her."

"We are wrong."

"It should be me to make her lost the mirror." Camera pushes in on her.

Cut to the "Don't Come In" sign. We are again in flashback.

"Tao, shit." As before, Watanabe gets up to leave with the girl, but this time the camera stays on her workstation, where we see the lens she has set down.

"The mirror was there." Camera begins to pull back.

"I think she must have forgotten, and she picked up another one to check. She looked very tired at that time."

Another flashback, as Watanabe looks at a new lens, while the (camera moves to) forgotten lens sits unnoticed.

"It's our fault. No quarrel."

"Tao worried about us. Then to make a mistake ..."

"What happened then?"

"She's worried about making a bad weapon. Now she's like mad. And it's about the increase in productivity ..."

Cut, Watanabe center, back to camera, Yoshikawa and Shinda, left and right.

Shinda: "Don't do that. You haven't taken a rest. And she wants to keep working."

Yoshikawa: "Just calm down first, no worries."

"My negligence will kill the troop."

"Don't think it that way. We'll check once again. Go to rest."

"No. Anyway I can't sleep."

"However ..."

"Please. Don't let me go back. I must find the mirror."

Back to the girls. Close on one.

"It's worth 2000 dollars. In addition to today's check, we checked it yesterday and the day before." The camera has pulled back to include Shiu.

Reverse angle, looking over a sea of girls' heads at Shiu. She says nothing.

Cut to boxes of lenses. A girl sings.

"More than 400 provinces/
fight against the enemies/
More than 100 thousand troops/
The country is facing constraints/
Yuen Year 4 summer/"

Camera pans up to reveal empty stations, with Watanabe at the far end, singing...

" ... We are not scared/
Men protect the home/"

Cut to a clock. 12:05. Cut back to Watanabe.

"More than 400 provinces/
fight against the enemies/
More than 100 thousand troops/
The country is facing constraints/
Yuen Year 4 summer/"

Cut to clock. 12:35. Cut back to Watanabe. The song is slower now, and the camera is slightly closer.

"More than 400 provinces/
fight against the enemies/
More than 100 thousand troops/
The country is facing constraints/"

Cut to clock. 1:05. Closer on her, as the song gets even slower:

"More than 400 provinces/
fight against the enemies/
More than 100 thousand troops/"

Cut to clock. 1:35. The camera is even closer. She composes herself and begins to sing again:

"More than 400 provinces/
fight against the enemies/
More than 100 thousand troops/"

Cut to clock. 2:02. The camera is even closer. She is singing very softly and slowly:

"More than 400 provinces/
fight against the enemies/
More than 100 thousand troops/"

Cut to clock. 2:35. The camera is even closer. Singing ever softer and slower:

"More than 400 provinces/
fight against the enemies/
More than 100 thousand troops/"

Cut to clock. 3:02. Camera angle changes to frontal view. She squints as she continues the song:

"More than 400 provinces/
fight against the enemies/
More than 100 thousand troops/
The country is facing constraints/
Yuen Year 4 summer/"

She pounds on her neck. She tries to wake herself up. For a moment, the tempo picks up. Finally, she slumps down.

Cut to a circular scope POV -- an aircraft is flying in and out of the viewfinder. Suzuki's music pumps up here, but ends abruptly as she wakes up. She stands, beginning in this shot and

Cut, continuing in the next -- the original wide shot from above. Several cuts to areas of the factory, all still and quiet. Back to Watanabe. Close-up. She is praying.

Cut on an angle, as a hymn-like girls' voice begin. Cut to the scope, the entranceway, girls praying at a little shrine, camera pulls back, and again, and again, and again (crane shot).

Cut to Watanabe, pulling herself together and getting back to work. Cut to the original wide angle. The singing ends.

Cut to the factory doorways. Dissolve to Watanabe, walking down hallway.

"Finished?" It is Shinda and Yoshikawa in a little office.

"Thanks."

"Give you a ride."

"Thank you."

Reverse angle.

Shinda: "It's OK, hurry to get a rest. Still some time for rest."

Yoshikawa: "Tao, be careful to get cold." He takes off his coat and drapes it over her shoulders.

"Let's go."

"It's my fault to be proud."

Shinda: "It's not bad to have a test sometimes. Let's go." Watanabe still doesn't budge.

"How?" She finally begins to walk, slowly. Cut to outside. The three walk along, as we see the factory looming in the background. Shiu sees Watanabe:

"Tao?"

Quick cuts: Shiu, Watanabe, Shinda ("Sorry to make you worried"), Watanabe again, back to Shiu:

"Thank you." To Watanabe. Cut to Yoshikawa:

"Tao has tried her best. Just say something to encourage her." Watanabe bows her head. Cut to Shiu, smiling:

"Thank you, it must be freezing." She drapes a scarf around Watanabe's neck. Watanabe cries.

VERTICAL WIPE (top to bottom) #9

The girls are happy.

"Ling has come back." To Watanabe:

"You cried? Your eyes are red."

"Stupid, just being tired." The camera moves on Shiu as another girl speaks:

"You'll get cold."

"Ling, you can't be sick again."

"Go to take a rest. Sleep for a while." The camera pans to the right and follows Watanabe as she leaves the room.

VERTICAL WIPE (top to bottom) #10

Marching band, shot from above. Cut to a factory banner:

"It's a critical period. Work hard, only 15 days left." Cut to the graph, the line going up. Cut to workstations. Note sound design! Final cut to Watanabe, at her station with total silence. She stares into the scope for a moment, then sees Yoshikawa at the doors. He silently summons her and they go outside the work area to the hallway.

"Hurry to go home, don't think it again. Bring some personal stuff."

"A letter from your dad. Your mum is dead of sickness. He asked us to tell you. To come back at the right time. However ..."

"I never go back."

"We wish you to go back. To do something."

"I have decided."

"Obviously you are great. We understand your dad's feeling. However, you'd better go home. Tao, don't be stubborn."

"No matter what happened, Mum asked me not to go home for personal reasons ... Teacher, please let Shan take a rest. She has a fever everyday. Please approve." She bows, turns around and heads for the workshop door. Shiu calls out to her:

"Tao." Watanabe bows and goes into the workshop.

Composition: The frame is divided into four vertical quadrants. Going left to right, Shiu, Shinda, the empty space previously occupied by Watanabe, and Yoshikawa, all with their backs to the camera. One of the men:

"You are a good kid."

Shiu: "You are mature." The men turn to look at her. Cut close on Shiu.

"I have been worried. Tao's personality is strong. I wish her to be more mild. However, she's now ..." (her expression becomes radiant) "... knowing how to be understanding."

Cut close on Watanabe, from behind. She turns around and looks into the microscope. She lifts her head and dabs at her eyes. Back to scope, again lifts head and dabs eyes. Scope, lifts head, tears. Lifts head, tears. Music, girls' voices:

"Freshy green ... bright green ..." The tears are flowing. "Sharp green..."

She returns to the scope, but again lifts her head, tears streaming down her face.

" ...Rich green."

She returns to the scope. Fade to black.

Credits.

"1944 Toho Co., Ltd. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED."

Big major chord.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SOURCES:

Stephen Prince: "The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa," (Princeton University Press (1991/1999) [SP]

Donald Richie: "The Films of Akira Kurosawa," University of California Press (1998) [DR]

James Goodwin: "Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema," The John Hopkins University Press (1994) [JG]

Stuart Galbraith IV: "The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune," Faber and Faber (2001) [SG]

Akira Kurosawa: "Something Like an Autobiography," Vintage Books (1983) [AK]

18 WIPES

HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the right) -- 2
HORIZONTAL WIPE (to the left) -- 4
VERTICAL WIPE (top to bottom) -- 10
VERTICAL WIPE (bottom to top) -- 1
IRIS WIPE -- 1

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