Judge Dylan Charles believes teachers need at least twenty-four eyes in the back of their heads to keep watch on a typical class.
The color of the sea
Based on a novel by Sakae Tsuboi, Twenty-Four Eyes takes the road less traveled to show a country in wartime. Rather than the brutality of the battlefield, the atrocities, the bloodshed, and the bombs, Twenty-Four Eyes shows the small effects in the day-to-day lives of the common folk.
Facts of the Case
Hisako Oishi (Hideko Takamine) is a schoolteacher in a small rural town in Japan in 1928. For the next eighteen years, through the beginning and end of World War II, she watches her twelve students deal with poverty, war, and growing up and does what she can to help them along.
When boiled down to its very basic premise, Twenty-Four Eyes sounds like a very simple movie that can be summed up in two sentences. That's where the beauty of the whole thing comes into play. From this very simple premise, Keisuke Kinoshita weaves a very complex, emotional story that paints an accurate portrayal of the effects of a history shattering event on a small, rural town.
This complexity is slow to bloom. The story introduces Oishi as a bright spark in a close-knit town, a little too modern and a little too wild for the tastes of the parents. She deals with their idle gossip and the pranks and gibes of her students, but her energy and love for the students lets them bloom in a time of abject poverty.
As the movie progresses and her students get older, the problems they all face become more and more complex. Oishi must face claims that she's a communist, a Red spreading left leaning teachings to her students, while her students must face the looming problems of adulthood. Some must give up their education, others think of joining the army to fight in the war.
At all times, the war is at an arm's length, a distant black cloud that impacts their lives on a minor level, but is omnipresent. It's a strange way to depict the bloodiest conflict of the twentieth century. War is heard about, but never seen. It touches their lives, but only by proxy. Friends are killed and family lost, but Oishi is the single bright thread through all of her students' lives, there to love and care for them, even when no one else does.
Hideko Takamine ages gracefully as Oishi. Her young woman is as believable as her middle-aged woman. Through it all, she manages to maintain her spark in spite of the hardships that befall her. Kinoshita handled the casting of the children in a novel way. Knowing that he'd need characters to age five years at one point, he only cast actors who had siblings five or six years older and then used those siblings after the time shift, thus allowing for a more fluid change through the shifts in time and allowing the audience to maintain a grip on who was who.
There are a few problems with the pacing of the film, however. One is the abundant deluge of songs. You can't swing a dead cat without hitting a song sung by the children. It just about drove me wild, but perhaps there are those who actually have an attention span and won't be bothered. Toward the end, after a fairly restful first and second act, the third act comes at a breakneck pace, with large shifts in time happening every ten minutes or so. It's a bit jarring, and after the languid pace of the first two thirds, I felt hard-pressed to keep up.
Criterion has packaged up a few decent extras. The interview with Tadao Sato helps to place Twenty-Four Eyes into its larger context, which is always a good thing. Criterion has let me down though, with only a smattering of extras this time around, although this might be because I just hold Criterion to the very high standards it has set for itself. I expect them to offer sixteen audio tracks, interviews with men that have been dead for years, and a mime who visits my house to act out the whole film.
The video quality is also not quite up to snuff. While it's very clean, it's also a bit washed out, with an absence of true blacks.
Twenty-Four Eyes is a beautiful film with a power that rests in the basic simplicity of the story. It's driven by the lives of the characters rather than basic plot contrivances and Criterion has done well to bring it to a larger audience.
While Judge Charles dislikes children in his courtroom, he finds the defendant not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• New Interview with Japanese Cinema Historian and Critic Tadao Sato about the Film and its Director
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