WIFE OF A SPY (Supai no tsuma)
Reviewed for Shockya.com & BigAppleReviews.net linked from Rotten Tomatoes by: Harvey Karten
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, Tadashi Nohara
Cast: Yu Aoi, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Higashide, Ryota Bando, Yuri Tsunematsu, Minosuke, Hyunri, Takashi Sasano
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC, 8/9/21
Opens: September 17, 2021 at IFC Center in NY
Just when you thought there were no new themes for movies about World War 2, along comes “Wife of a Spy” by the noted film director Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Kurosawa (not related to Akira Kurosawa), who may be best known in these parts for his “Tokyo Sonata,” dealing with the disintegration of an ordinary Japanese family when the man of the house loses his job. In the present film, he focuses on a family as well, this one made up of two people, Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi) and his wife Satoko (Yu Aoi). But he expands the family drama beyond the limited subject covered in “Tokyo Sonata” to Japanese politics, a country on the brink of war with the United States, and uses Yusaku as a representative of a man who considers himself not just Japanese but a liberal cosmopolitan. Yusaku fears the upcoming action against the United States thinking, like other prescient people in his country, that an attack on America would lead ultimately to Japan’s defeat.
In one playful scene that has us in the audience thinking that Kurosawa is dealing with reality, Satoko steals money from the household safe, but that turns out to be part of an amateur film by Yusaku, who makes his living as a silk merchant but with a filmmaking hobby Perhaps a large number of Japanese shares Yusaku’s liberalism in chafing against the anti-Western ambiance of the country, one which has virtually banned Western clothing and foreign whiskey. In fact it took courage for Yusaku to invite an old friend Taiji (Mashiro Higashide) to share a drink of scotch given that Taiji, Satoko’s former schoolmate, is now the city of Kobe’s head of military police. This, however, makes Yusaku a target of the police, who are now keeping an eye on him.
When Yusaku leaves on business for Japanese-occupied Manchuria with his nephew Fumio (Ryota Brando), he discovers that his countrymen are performing medical experiments on the local populace leading to massive deaths, their bodies tossed into a pile like so much trash. He determines to show what he films to the Americans, its purpose unclear, though one would think he’d hope that the U.S. intervene against his own country. Thus the term “spy” in the film’s title, with the title wife of the alleged spy needing to balance her loyalty to her husband against her fidelity to her country.
The second half of the film concentrates particularly on Yu Aoi’s Satoko, leading to an action that would have her arrested for treason and likely executed. As with so many indie-ish movies undertaken far from Hollywood, Ryosuke Nagaoka’s soundtrack music never interferes with dialogue and is non-intrusive when used. “Wife of a Spy” features solid acting particularly from Yu Aoi as Satoko, a youthful, pretty woman who clings to her husband, almost terrified that he will be leaving her for a while to deal with his silk business in Manchuria.
Japan could have used people like Yusaku in high government office, a liberal who would immediately realize that when his country announced slogans to justify invasions with “Asia for the Asians,” they meant simply Asia for Japanese.
In Japanese with English subtitles
115 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B
Acting – B+
Technical – B
Overall – B