117 ICHIBAN UTSUKUSHIKU / The Most Beautiful (1944) Directed by Akira Kurosawa **
118 TORA NO O WO FUMU OTOKOTACHI / Men Who Step on the Tiger's Tail (1945) Directed by Akira Kurosawa.
The Most Beautiful
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL is minor Kurosawa. Made in 1944 at the behest of the Japanese wartime government, it is a propaganda piece urging female workers to fulfill their work quotas as part of their patriotic duty. The film is set in a factory that makes lenses for military equipment and shows the girls happily trying to meet requirements despite personal problems and accidents. Interest today is, for me, limited to the fact that it is an early example of Kurosawa's work and for me he is one of the five greatest film directors of all time. The flag-waving is kept to a minimum and Kurosawa tries hard to make the girls come to life as individuals. The director has expressed a personal fondness for the movie, understandably as he met his future wife (who plays the matron of the girl's dormitory) on the production.
Men Who Step on the Tiger's Tail
THE MEN WHO STEP ON THE TIGER'S TAIL, made the following year, is more what we expect from the Kurosawa of the later samurai films. Despite a running time of less than an hour and the fact that the whole story is filmed on a Toho Studio sound stage (complete with painted mountains and sky backdrps) and resembles a television play rather than cinema, the film is compulsive viewing. Set during the Shogunate, a written prologue tells us that the Shogun's brother and six of this retainers are trying to escape to northern Japan to escape assassination. To pass a military blockade they disguise themselves as wandering priests and porters. Although we see neither the beginning of the story or the end the film is suspenseful and gripping. The final scene is, and has been, open to all kinds of interpretation, although I feel that the simplest and least complicated one is probably the right one - sometimes the obvious is the right answer. As with THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, Kurosawa stalwart Takashi Shimura has a supporting role.