After watching so many World War II American movies, I watched a Japanese wartime film called “The Most Beautiful” (1944), about a group of women who join the war effort to make precision optic gunsights. Since this is about what women do (movie-wise) when the men went off to war — which is to pack themselves off to some dangerous and cold factory with graphic scenes of dangerous moving machine parts — I expected to see a lots of wartime footage interspersed with the drama of letters from the front and whatnot.
However, this is a Akira Kurosawa film, which means the theme, action and plot never go astray from the central story. The women continue to make bombsights and the managers continue to drum up ways to keep up morale. We never see wartime footage.
One of the main themes of the movie includes how much the simple sport of volleyball — played by the girls at the factory as a management directed morale building exercise — helps productivity. It reminded me of my own work experience. During the day, I work at a bank, and my team gets together to play foosball. As much as the bank tries to build morale in other ways, the foosball table seems to rule. I’ve met more people as a result of playing foosball than as a result of any of the company directed “team building” programs.
The “end of act 2 moment” in this film occurs when Tsuru Watanabe (played by Yoko Yaguchi) misplaces a bombsight lens, which has not been “calibrated” properly. The other women in her team and the management are very concerned because one bad bombsight could mean an airplane could go down. This forces her to stay up all night to find the lens, which means she must look at as many as 2000 lenses. She finally finds the lens!
Have you ever seen the Michael Keaton film — “Gung Ho?” Keaton decides to do the same thing as Watanabe. He goes into the factory to build cars (not precision lenses) — by himself. But since it’s not wartime, the movie makes the opposite point. It’s not “do what you can, every person’s effort helps the country, you are slaving for a dead soldier.” Instead, it’s “Let’s band together and make something great.” Both of those sentiments work during the wartime. In Gung Ho, Keaton’s co-workers finally decide to join him to build cars. But by 1944, in Japan, it was an individual effort.