The story: The daughter of a politically disgraced university professor struggles to find a place for herself in love and life, in the uncertain world of Japan leading into WWII.
At first, I thought this film would chronicle the historical events of Japan from 1933 to 1946. Admittedly, it took me longer than it should have to understand that Kurosawa was not interested in no such thing – or, rather, he was more interested in showing these events in the way in which they affect the life of a young women and her coming of age. Yukie, our heroine, is constantly on the foreground.
History is left lurking in the back, sometimes even confusing, but ultimately irrelevant. This is no socialist film. The individual is what is important.
Yukie, at the start of the film, is a bratty and even insufferable daughter of a Japanese middle-class intellectual. She is so self-centred that it seems her father’s imprisonment for speaking out against the government concerns her as much as her worries about who she will marry. Later, by the end of the film, she will have flourished into a completely different person, finding redemption after hard-labour in a rice field in the country, unburdened by previous petty concerned.
No Regrets for Our Youth is a feminist film, and a great one at that!
The scene that is most important, and most supports this viewpoint, is one in which she tells her parents that she has decided to leave her comfortable household “to find out how to live.” And leave she does. Though one must say that her father’s quietly concerned response is also very liberal; he understands and allows her to make the decision for herself. Times are changing.
Girls are no longer required to serve the man. In fact, the film arguably has little concern for the implied love triangle introduced early on in the film. I will not dwell upon it because it meant little to me. What was touching to me was the moment in which Kurosawa cuts between a shot of her hands, from years before, playing Schumann on a piano, to her hands engaged in a mucky rice-field working hard.
Yet this is no socialist film. The farmers are just as selfish and brutish as the fascists, the soldiers and everybody else around her. Individualism is key in a world that can be pretty horrible. Nonetheless, through her “individualistic” actions, Yukie is still able to positively affect the lives of some people around her.
This leaning towards the individualistic viewpoint meant that the film was greeted unfavourably by almost everyone at the time of its release. Actually, No Regrets for Our Youth is poetry. It is the type of film that contemporary cinema struggles to make, especially when it comes to stories about women. Kurosawa stated that it was the first film in which he was allowed to say what he wanted to say.