Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Sep 16, 2021 6:50 am 
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Love and independence in pre-WWII Japan

Sometimes even Kurosawa's best work since the early horror masterpieces Pulse and Cure can seem a letdown, and at first Life of a Spy appears to have a somewhat bland, polished surface that's a little dull. But look more closely. To begin with it's unusual because it's his first costume film, being set before and during the Second World War. And then, it has things to say that may never have been said in a mainstream Japanese film before about this period. Under the blandness is a surprising originality and boldness.

This is a radical couple, whose anti-war, anti-jingoistic views run totally against the tide of events in a Japan moving toward militarism and joining up with the Axis powers to seek world domination. They are sophisticates, artists. And the beauty of the tale is the way the couple comes together. At first the wife thinks her husband's ideas outrageous. Then she comes to understand and sympathize with them. Then as their views put them in mortal danger and they must flee the country, they must separate to do so. It's a subtle, beautiful structure that grows on you as it gradually unfolds. This is an historical romance drama for television of a very high order. And no wonder its theatrical version was selected in the main competition section of the 77th Venice International Film Festival and won the Silver Lion there.

This is a slow burner, the sort of film that one begins to appreciate more after it's over. And incidentally, one can revel in the period accoutrements, not just the old cars as usual (including a magnificently clunky Rolls Royce) but the tasteful clothes, which evoke the era without jiving on it or resorting to kitsch. The clothes express the taste and restraint of these people subliminally. Wife of a Spy offers many quiet pleasures. Watch for it.

Wife of a Spy スパイの妻,, 115 mins., opened on TV in Japan Jun. 6, 2021, the theatrical version showing in competition at Venice Jun. 8 receiving the Silver Lion, showing at about 16 other international festivals. It is released by Kino Lorber in the US, opening Sept. 17 at IFC Center in NYC and Laemle Royal in LA Sept. 24.

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