Hideko Takamine, a Japanese child star who grew up to be a middling actress, plays Hisako Oishi, who teaches school in a rural island village beginning in the late 1920s, in Nijushi no hitomi, from Sakae Tsuboi’s novel. Written and directed by Keisuke Kinoshita, this soft, elegiac antiwar classic spans two decades, deriving its poignancy from the eventual deaths of students in World War II, the depth of affection that students retain for Oishi, and the aural punctuation of nostalgic melodies on the soundtrack, including ones familiar to Western audiences. Whether this last is a sly reference to the U.S. occupation of Japan following the war I cannot say. Oishi, one notes, wears Western clothes. Indeed, it is her modernity that initially draws resistance to her acceptance from the island’s inhabitants.
Kinoshita’s films always somewhat disappoint, and this leisurely, very appealing one is no exception. Although Kinoshita applies a degree of restraint and, as a result, it isn’t mawkish, Twenty-Four Eyes is not immune to the label tearjerker. While its repetitiousness dulls its capacity to jerk all the tears it aims for, this sad film racks up a good many bull’s-eyes.
Perhaps the film’s finest aspect is its translation into form and feeling of the idea of time’s passage. It always depresses me that so many Hollywood films whose story spans a number of years—an example: The Way We Were (Sydney Pollack, 1973)— convey no sense of this. It is sometimes difficult in the case of Kinoshita’s film to match up the faces of actors playing the same character at different stages; but, watching this film, one feels the flow of time and, with it, the irony that the process of education sometimes prepares people for death in war rather than productivity in life.