Beautiful movie. A lot of the political stuff went right over my head, but all I cared about was seeing Setsuko Hara in a Kurosawa movie!
The film opens in 1933 and Setsuko is the daughter of a well respected professor. There's some stuff going on about academic freedom and anti-militarism. Anyway, Setsuko is a free-spirited youth and doesn't have time for silly shit like fascism. She is attracted to two of her father's students: Noge and Itokawa. Itokawa is taking the path of least resistance while Noge is hellbent on his anti-war efforts. The entire story takes place over 12 years, from 1933-1945.
As far as I know, and that's not too far, this is the only film where Kurosawa had a female as his lead character and he couldn't have made a better choice than Setsuko Hara. She's amazing! She covers a wide range of emotions, from a happy-go-lucky youth to a woman with a purpose, perfectly. Another thing I noticed, I think I'm correct here, is the entire movie was portrayed from her point of view.
If you're new to Kurosawa this would be a horrible place to start, but if you've already seen all his classics a dozen times and are looking to to expand your knowledge then this would be a good film to check out...and maybe if you're lucky you'll fall in love with Setsuko and watch her at her very best: with Ozu.