PJapanese filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa is still best known in the United States for his horror films, including Impulse, To cure and Sinister, but he has worked in many genres during his long career. Kurosawa’s latest film, The wife of a spy, is his first period play, a measured and sometimes posed drama set on the eve of Japan’s entry into World War II. It unfolds slowly and methodically, eventually culminating in a powerful and unexpected climax. The start of the movie takes a little patience, but it pays off surprisingly as the story unfolds.
The wife of a spy opened in early 1940, when the Japanese government imposed greater restrictions on its population. It’s a challenge for Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi), who runs a successful import-export business and is now cut off from most of his overseas customers. In the first scene, one of Yusaku’s British associates is arrested on suspicion of espionage, and although this man is eventually released, it’s clear that Yusaku’s interests are increasingly at odds with those of the government. He tries to hide these concerns from his wife, Satoko (Yu Aoi), but she feels his unease, especially after returning from what he claims to be a business trip to Manchuria.
The wife of a spy It plays out much like a soap opera in its first half, as Satoko’s concerns initially focus on her suspicion that her husband is having an affair and the distance that has developed between them in their marriage. Satoko herself flirts with her childhood friend Taiji Tsumori (Masahiro Higashide), who is now the commander of the Japanese military police. Satoko soon learns that Yusaku and his nephew Fumio (Ryota Bando) have witnessed terrible atrocities committed by the Japanese military in Manchuria, and are attempting to smuggle evidence of these crimes out to share with the international community.
Yusaku isn’t much of a spy, since he doesn’t work for any type of organized group. He’s a previously complacent citizen driven to act out of a sense of moral outrage, and once Satoko joins him in this awakening, the story picks up accordingly. Despite Kurosawa’s experience in genre films, he does not structure The wife of a spy like a thriller, and the moments of suspense are minimal.
Instead, it’s the story of a woman trying to assert her own identity as she questions everything she thought she knew about her life. Even though Satoko enthusiastically participates in her husband’s efforts, she is always behind him and Taiji. No matter how proactive she becomes, she can never be seen as anything other than the wife of a spy.
Originally produced for Japanese television, The wife of a spy at times visually and narratively resembles a soap opera, shot on flat digital video, mostly in static and stage-related locations. Frequent blurry shots and overexposed backgrounds (windows often look out into the bright nothingness) give the melodrama a sense of artificiality that may seem at odds with the historical material, but also underscores the surreal situation in which Satoko found himself. found.
Even when the film seems to struggle to find its purpose, Aoi is still convincing to watch Satoko, a woman who has lived a life of privilege at the expense of her own autonomy. The film’s extended epilogue is a heartbreaking depiction of her inner strength and capacity for use. Yusaku is an amateur filmmaker, and in happier times he creates noir style shorts for his wife. She deliberately plays comedy in these films, but she is always called upon to play a role – by her husband, by her country, whether on purpose or not. ??
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
With Yu Aoi, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Higashide
with a magic lantern