I’d never heard of Keisuke Kinoshita or his 1954 film Twenty-Four Eyes until it showed up on my front porch for review this past Friday. I took one look at the box and inwardly groaned at its 156-minute running time. So very few films actually justify that length—and this was no exception. But that doesn’t keep the film from having distinct merits. In a sense, it’s a Japanese version of Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939), which never was a great movie. But that very fact makes it rather interesting if only because we tend to not see—or even get the chance of seeing—more standard fare when it comes to foreign films. Particularly noteworthy is watching the young Japanese children of 1928 be gradually transformed into jingoistic patriots as their country moves toward war.
The film’s sentimentality is established at the very onset by the peculiar use of “Annie Laurie” on the soundtrack over scenes of rural Japanese life in 1928. Why “Annie Laurie?” I have no idea. (Even though it’s an equally Western choice, I better understood slapping “Auld Lang Syne” on a later seen.) It does, however, clearly indicate the path the film is going to take. In fact, one’s fondness for much of the film will likely depend on one’s tolerance for children singing. I admit that mine is not great. At the same time, the singing does serve a thematic purpose, since it carries the film from songs of innocence at the beginning to very non-innocent songs about vanquishing the enemy as the country becomes more and more militaristic. Whether that’s quite enough to justify the gooey nature of the songs is a personal call.
At bottom, though, Twenty-Four Eyes is essentially a Japanese variant on the “teacher who made a difference” subgenre—something that almost certainly accounts for the fact that the film was immensely popular in its original release. By no means is this a great example of Japanese cinema, but it’s an important example of Japanese movies. Not everything is Kurosawa or Ozu or even Ishiro Honda (at his best), and that needs to be understood and observed as well as the standard classics.