My weekly movie reviews. You can also read these on letterboxd.

This week focuses on three early melodramas from Akira Kurosawa.

 

NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH (1946)

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

I’ve long been a fan of Akira Kurosawa’s historical pictures, his samurai-themed adventures, and I like his crime movies just as much. What I haven’t explored are many of his dramas like NO REGRETS FOR OUR YOUTH.

The film reveals a different side of the Japanese master and shows that his filmography could have been entirely different if he’d wanted it to be. The straight-forward and episode story follows a woman and two men during a complicated and conflicting time in Japan’s history. It’s performed well by the leads, especially Susumu Fujita who was fantastic in Kurosawa’s early SANSHIRO SUGATA. Visually, Kurosawa stages and shoots the melodramatic material in a very simple way. That is until the second half when NO REGRETS becomes a very different picture. Suddenly Kurosawa thrusts us into dramatic montages of hard labor, the cinematography becomes direct and aggressive, reminding me of the most sentimental and moving sequences from John Ford’s work.

I will admit that I enjoyed the second half of this picture more than the first, even if it is more obvious and on-the-nose with its theme. The power of Kurosawa’s images are undeniable, whether applied to a samurai battle or digging up a crop field.

Watched on Criterion Channel.

 

THE MOST BEAUTIFUL (1944)

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

This wartime melodrama from Kurosawa did not work for me as well as NO REGRETS OF OUR YOUTH which he would make a couple of years later.

For one, all of its female characters blend together. Other than Y├┤ko Yaguchi, the other women don’t stand out from each other and the events of their lives (sickness, sadness, etc.) blur into a narrative that just hums along, never reaching any kind of dramatic peak. The strongest moment of the entire film is the final watch with Yaguchi. There we get a glimpse of the emotional weight Kurosawa brings to his other work. Perhaps handcuffed by the propaganda-nature of this piece, he wasn’t able to free himself and make the kind of picture we know him for.

Watched on Criterion Channel.

 

ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY (1947)

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

My favorite of these three early melodramas from Akira Kurosawa, ONE WONDERFUL SUNDAY shows more than REGRETS and MOST BEAUTIFUL how the director is developing his craft.

Like John Ford, Kurosawa can be a master of sentimentality. Just watch the baseball scene in this movie, where in a series of close-ups and careful cutting he moves us through humor, disaster, and a tearful conclusion. He knows how to piece the performances together and direct them to stir human emotion. Much of SUNDAY is that way as we follow this poor couple in their attempt to have a special day together. Some of it is quite effective, like their role-playing moment in the war-torn part of the city as they fantasize about their dream coffee business. Other parts, such as the middle section in the apartment, drag a little and I feel this movie could have benefited from a 80-90 minute runtime.

The direct address she makes in the final act is interesting. Was it intended to get a theatrical audience to verbally respond? And if so, does it work in a non-theatrical setting? It’s a daring move by the Japanese filmmaker who is still finding his way at this point in his filmography but already creating powerful images and moments for us to linger on.

Watched on Criterion Channel.