Akira Kurosawa’s fifth feature film, and his first following the end of World War II, Waga seishun ni kuinashi (No Regrets for Our Youth) is amongst the most fascinating of the director’s early works. Based upon the 1933 Kyoto University Incident in which Professor Takikawa Yukitoki was removed from his position due to his supposedly “red” beliefs, the film is also one of the few examples of a Kurosawa film dealing with a contemporaneous socio-political issue in a direct manner.
Despite its setting, however, the major focus of No Regrets for Our Youth is not the Kyoto University Incident itself, but the manner in which the event affects the lives of Kurosawa’s characters. The director forgoes engaging in explicit political commentary in favour of focusing upon a character-driven narrative. Granted, the socio-political scenario depicted within the film is certainly integral to the narrative and must not be understated but, as always, characterisation is key to Kurosawa’s artistic success.
Apart from its political content, one major feature setting No Regrets for Our Youth apart from the director’s larger body of work is that it marks the only Kurosawa film to feature a female protagonist. In Yukie (Setsuko Hara), we are given a heroine who is both complex and challenging. Initially childish and emotionally volatile, Yukie undergoes a form of personal development allowing her to see more clearly the world in which she lives. The 13 years covered by the film, 1933 to 1946, feature her evolution from emotional immaturity to wisdom.
Toward the beginning of the film Yukie lives in denial of the social situation affecting her father and friends. She must certainly be aware of this situation given its direct impact upon her own life, but outwardly she attempts to maintain an illusion of cheerfulness. Even the news of her father’s professional termination and her encounter with a fallen soldier while hiking with her friends appears to have little real effect upon her. But Yukie’s illusion is ultimately shattered when the object of her affection, Noge (Susumu Fujita), is imprisoned for his political activity. Her decision to leave behind her parents and secret admirer, Itokawa (Akitake Kono), are ostensibly based in her desire to begin her own life as an adult, but it also suggests her wish to be closer to the type of lifestyle experienced by the adventurous Noge.
Visually, No Regrets for Our Youth is among Kurosawa’s most compelling films. Kurosawa does not attempt to stylistically reflect the volatile social and political conditions which form the backdrop of the film, but rather provides a more introspective visual atmosphere. In contrast to later masterpieces such as Rashomon (1950) and Shichinin no samurai (The Seven Samurai, 1954), No Regrets for Our Youth is much more meditative in its form; even poetic at times. From the beginning of the film Kurosawa provides us with images of quiet contemplation: Yukie running through a field of flowers; a montage featuring Yukie being playfully pursued through a forest by Noge and Itokawa; a close-up of three flowers floating in a bowl of water (reflecting the triangular relationship between Yukie, Noge and Itokawa) at Yukie’s flower arrangement class. A later montage illustrating Yukie‘s visible anguish following her mother’s request that she come downstairs to see Noge off before his departure to China, resembles aspects of the psycho-dramas of Maya Deren. Kurosawa uses a series of quick cuts to convey the different emotions experienced during by Yukie during this brief moment of decision.
With the Criterion Collection’s relatively recent release of the Postwar Kurosawa box-set on their Eclipse imprint, No Regrets for Our Youth has been made available for a wider home-viewing audience. While it remains in many ways a minor work in comparison to the films Kurosawa would produce in the following decade, it is nonetheless an important early contribution to the director’s oeuvre and a fascinating glimpse into the evolution of his creative style.
Waga seishun ni kuinashi/No Regrets for Our Youth (1946 Japan 110 mins)
Prod Co: Toho Prod: Keiji Matsuzaki Dir, Ed: Akira Kurosawa Scr: Eijiro Hisaita, Akira Kurosawa Phot: Asakazu Nakai Prod Des: Keiji Kitagawa Mus: Tadashi Hattori
Cast: Setsuko Hara, Susumu Fujita, Denjiro Okochi, Haruko Sugimura, Eiko Miyoshi, Kokuten Kodo, Akitake Kono