The last comment above might also read “people shed more tears in this film than any other….”
Just about everyone cries at some point in this melodrama spanning twenty years of a teacher’s life, which concentrates specifically on her career-long involvement with her first class of pupils: twelve little kids with twenty-four innocent eyes between them.
Charming sensei Oishi (Takamine) forms a bond with her students largely through a rather malicious act on their behalf. One day at the beach, she is foxed into a little pit-trap some of the boys have made in the sand and she breaks her leg! They effectively ruin her ability to teach them any further since she needs to ride a bicycle to get to the remote school every morning. The children are so distraught that they march to her home. By the time they arrive, they are hungry, afraid at being so far away from home and crying helplessly. It is because Oishi is so good natured about her unwelcome difficulty and because she never blames her students that they come to admire, respect and love her. As the year’s pass by, Oishi and the children re-demonstrate their empathic bond, resulting in in several more tear-flowing displays.
Above all else, Twenty-Four Eyes is the anti-war statement of a pacifist. Oishi retires for a while as a kind of strike against the imperialism and anti-communism (or really anti-freedom-of-expression) of the authorities. World War II takes away some of the people she cherishes most. Poverty and sickness due to economic and political depressions harm others. This is a film that makes us aware of large-scale social problems by showing us how they directly affect a small community. The mission is admirable, but the manner of its presentation is a little too mass-oriented and conservative for my tastes. Perhaps the subject is too obvious and lacking in anything of substance beyond the surface. An interesting counter-example of how an anti-war statement can be faintly situated within a work rather than thrust in our faces might be Kenji Mizoguchi’s version of The 47 Ronin. Made during World War II, rather than near the end of the American occupation of Japan, as Twenty-Four Eyes was, the requirement to obscure his pacifism may have actually helped Mizoguchi make a more interesting, deeply structured and affecting film.
My resistance to weeping uncontrollably in rhythm to the sounds and sights of wailing children probably deters my enjoyment of this film. If you’re more inclined than I am to spend two-and-a-half hours with a box of tissues and aren’t bothered by overt emotional manipulation, then this is an experience you might not want to miss.