During the Second World War, Kurosawa made indirect propaganda films which promoted ideals for the country to help the war effort. Sanshiro Sugata, Sanshiro Sugata part II (1945) and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945) are all propaganda but less literal and direct. The use of Sanshiro defeating the American boxer in the sequel acts as a subliminal propaganda tool highlighting that Japan can defeat the Americans, and that they are superior in both spirit and force. However, this wasn’t the only type of propaganda films made by Kurosawa. His second feature was a propaganda film called The Most Beautiful, and it follows a group of female volunteers who work in an optics factory developing and perfecting the scopes on weapons for soldiers. The emphasis on the female workers and the style of film-making resulted with a film that really made the audience and public sympathise with these characters and ultimately boosted moral.
The film opens with on-screen text ‘Attack and Destroy the Enemy’, see figure 8, and directly gives out a message for the audience, specifically Japan. The Most Beautiful is unashamed propaganda; it’s also a film that attempts to lift the spirits of the Japanese people on the Homefront. The simple statement that the film is a ‘movie of the people’ is inclusive, and gives the impression to the everyday person that the movie is for them. Kurosawa’s use of inclusive messages, combined with the documentary style of filmmaking gives the impression that the film is extremely personal. The documentary style features an almost non-existent musical score, and the camera is often close and feels intrusive. The film feels very cinéma vérité, and Kurosawa uses this effect for an audience response. Cinéma vérité is a documentary style which translates from French as truthful cinema, and The Most Beautiful is paraded as such. Kurosawa could’ve used a more polished and glamorous setting for the factory, and made the actresses more primped and preened. Instead, he used a style that closely resembles documentary therefore posing as a factual story of these girls in an optics factory. The truth remains, that these girls are actresses playing fictitious parts but Kurosawa has manipulated the direction to suggest to the audience that these are in fact real and relatable.
The film follows the girls of the optics factory, and their story begins with their director who releases a broadcast to the factory workers. All the workers of the factory are standing in the courtyard in a militaristic style, with their hands straight and their heads high. His message spreads that the quotas for the workers are increasing hundred percent for the men, but only fifty for the women. Naturally, the girls are upset that they are only given half of the men’s quota. Therefore, they demand a higher one and the film follows them trying to reach it. The girls go through emotional and physical exhaustion, but pull through with determination and comradery which is emphasised. The characteristics of the girls are inspirational models towards the intended audience of wartime Japan. The use of propaganda is to boost moral but also provides a source of inspiration and an ideal for the audience to aspire to be.
Instead of featuring a love interest for the female; the women are devoted to their country and Japan becomes their love interest. The female workers are highlighted as sexless, and their devotion to Japan is the key love interest and acts as a suggestion that this should be the norm for everyone during this period. Their devotion to the war effort and Japan means more than personal problems; injuries, illnesses and even the death of a close family member can’t stop any of the girls from wanting to work. Kurosawa’s use of characterising the girls as relatable to the public, and the documentary style of film-making both combine as a tool of propaganda. Instead of showing soldiers fighting against the Americans, and showing brutality and the soldiers on battlefront. Kurosawa decides against showing propaganda to encourage enlistees, as the workers on the Homefront are more likely to need a boost in moral and national pride. Therefore, the film revolves around the workers in Japan to emphasise what audience members should be striving to.
Propaganda most effectively “works on an emotional level by showing soldiers suffering and making sacrifices for the emperor and his national community” (Tezuka, 2011). By showing the workers constantly striving for excellence in making the lenses perfect, suggests the suffering the soldiers would experience if any of them slacked. The emotional response that is provoked from the audience is driven from the sacrifices that the girls make for the emperor and Japan. The women could easily be in education or be married with a family, but instead they sacrifice their lives to work for a higher cause for the country and emperor. Most of the people who had access to the movies in Japan were civilians, therefore any of these girls in the film could be their sisters, daughters or even the audience member themselves. The morals are shown as aspirational, therefore emphasises what every wartime Japanese girl should be like by the standards of the propaganda office. The relationship between the girls in the factory is something that is shown as desirable as the girls form their own family in their dorms, and their matron and the directors of the family are shown as caring parental figures in this pseudo family. The comradery is also shown as friendship as the girls plays volleyball, laugh and have fun together almost like a type of summer camp. The film doesn’t show the factory as an unpleasant place but more like a desirable place which young girls should go to and not because they are forced due to a war and their obligations.
The closest comparison to Kurosawa’s The Most Beautiful, would be the British propaganda film called Millions Like Us (1943) directed by Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder. Millions Like Us follows British female factory workers and shows the friendship and loyalty that develops amongst the workers, but the film also shows a love story and how the Nazi Germans destroyed their happiness whilst Kurosawa’s film shows their devotion to their country and to their friends rather than a romance. The Most Beautiful was an obvious success for the propaganda office as it portrayed what they believed workers should be like during the war. The Most Beautiful is an anomaly in Kurosawa’s work as it feels unlike his style or signature such as the use of frequent axial cuts or fast editing techniques such as the wipe. Kurosawa’s usual themes such as heroic champion and weather to show a change in the scene are not present in this film which make it seem not at all like his style. The film isn’t fun to watch in the sense that it criticises the West and specifically Britain and America, but the film-making techniques and the comradry from the girls makes it interesting to watch. If you’re a Kurosawa fan, maybe give it a watch, but if you’re a film fan in general then definitely watch it.