Directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Running Time: 156 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 1.0 Japanese
MSRP: $ 39.95
Release Date: August 19, 2008
Review Date: August 4, 2008
A teacher’s influence on students is incalculable, and many films over the decades have captured this very truth: everything from Goodbye, Mr. Chips and To Sir, With Love to Good Morning, Miss Dove and Up the Down Staircase. Japan’s contribution to celebrating the profession of teaching is Keisuke Kinoshita’s Twenty-Four Eyes. Like Chips and Miss Dove, Twenty-Four Eyes covers a wide expanse of years where a generation of children grow up and have children of their own coming under the influence of the same teacher. It’s a long but beautifully told story of work and life with all of its veritable ups and downs.
Young first year teacher Hisako Oishi (Hideko Takamine) begins her first day of teaching first grade in 1928 causing gossip in the small fishing village where she works. She has the temerity to wear a suit rather than a kimono to work and to ride a bicycle the five miles to school instead of walking or taking the bus. Her class of twelve eager students, however, has no such problems with their quickly giving her the endearing nickname “Miss Pebble” and feeling at ease with her. They enjoy their lessons, find great pleasure in the folk songs she teaches them, and at one point play a practical joke on her that injures her leg and takes her away from them. Moved to a school closer to her, Miss Pebble regains her class when they enter sixth grade. By then, however, things are beginning to change as the worldwide depression causes problems for several of the children whose parents pull them from school for various reasons while Miss Pebble does her best to keep them in school or to let them know that they’re loved and missed. By the time the children graduate from grammar school, many are already looking forward to military service, high school and college, or work away from home, and Miss Pebble herself, now married and with her own children, sees the world as much changed. By 1946, the story comes full circle as the beloved teacher again finds herself teaching first grade and discovers students in her class who are offspring of her original first graders.
Keisuke Kinoshita’s script (based faithfully on the novel by Sakae Tsuboi) is filled to the brim with plot as many of the original twelve students have interesting roads to travel over the film’s 18 year span. With two wars that Japan was a major player in plus the depression and other acts of God that are a part of everyday life, Twenty-Four Eyes piles emotionally devastating developments on top of one another during its two-and-a-half hours and guarantees that no one will finish the film without eyes brimming with tears over the moving, emotionally satisfying surprises the writer-director has in store. Cinematically, the photography by Hiroyuki Kusuda isn’t as haunting as in other Japanese films of the same period (The Burmese Harp, for example), but the straightforward lensing as we move sensuously through the seasons as years pass is just right to complement the succession of stories which the teacher and her pupils advance through. Moreover, music standards which convey a sense of hearth and loving embrace dot the soundtrack. Just a few refrains of “Auld Lang Syne” or “Annie Laurie” are certainly enough to root the images to an emotional web that’s impossible to resist.
Obviously there are three sets of actors who portray the students: the first grade versions, their sixth grade counterparts, and the surviving adults the teacher meets in the film’s final quarter hour. All groups are realistically and charmingly enacted helping the viewer understand why the teacher was so enamored with them. Hideko Takamine has the herculean task of taking Miss Pebble from youthful exuberance to the acceptance of triumph and tragedy that characterizes middle age. It’s a truly beautiful performance. Hideyo Amamoto makes for an interesting husband, but regrettably his scenes in the film are few. Chishu Ryu as the primary school’s other teacher, less beloved by the children after Miss Pebble leaves, is amusingly irascible.
The 1.33:1 theatrical aspect ratio is reproduced in this DVD transfer slightly windowboxed in Criterion’s familiar style. The film shows continuous examples of heavy processing to remove scratches and dirt, often successful but with some white scratches still remaining. There are also fluctuations in brightness occasionally and some spotting noted. Blacks are not the deepest I’ve seen either, and the grayscale and sharpness is only slightly above average. The white subtitles are easy to read. The film has been divided into 27 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound has some hiss present but not enough to be distracting. More problematic, however, is the tinniness of the timbre of the audio and the distortion that occurs when singing voices swell to an uncomfortable volume.
Movie historian Tadao Sato speaks on the films of Keisuke Kinoshita and particularly Twenty-Four Eyes in an anamorphic 19 ¼ minute video interview.
Two theatrical teaser re-release trailers are offered on the disc. Both are anamorphic (reformatting the theatrical aspect ratio in the process), the first one lasting 1 ¾ minutes and the second running for 3 ¼ minutes. Both are in much rougher shape than the film as presented on the disc.
The enclosed 20-page booklet includes some wonderful stills from the film, a luminous celebration of the movie by film historian Audie Bock, and a brief interview with writer-director Keisuke Kinoshita’s excerpted from a 1955 session for Kinema Junpo.
Another memorable Japanese tearjerker, Twenty-Four Eyes will especially resonate with teachers who understand the monumental roles they play in the lives of their students. Though picture and sound aren’t exemplary, it won’t matter at all once the viewer gets swept up in the events of almost two decades of the lives of these tender and moving characters.