September 06, 2021
Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s old-fashioned drama delivers big performances and intriguing plot twists
Wife of a Spy review – wartime mystery thriller of double and triple dealing
Kiyoshi Kurosawa has probably long since got used to seeing the words “no relation” after his name; and this Japanese film-maker has in any case established his own distinctive, valuable presence in Asian cinema. Just two years ago, he released his complex drama To the Ends of the Earth, and now, working with Ryû Hamaguchi as co-writer, he has created this excellent wartime mystery thriller, which won the Silver Lion at last year’s Venice film festival: an old-fashioned drama replete with big performances and plot twists, double-cross and triple-cross. It’s like a three-quarter scale version of a Lean epic, a mid-level Zhivago or English Patient, but all the more intriguing for being relatively modest in scope.
Yû Aoi is outstanding as Satoko, a movie Actor in 1940 Kobe in Japan, married to Yûsaku (Issey Takahashi), a prosperous international trader whose liberal politics and contact with foreigners makes him frowned upon in increasingly nationalist Japan. Yûsaku is visited by his old schoolfriend Taiji (Masahiro Higashide), who is now in police uniform, and caught up in the new fascist enthusiasm. A gulf between the two is opening up, despite Taiji having not got over his erstwhile crush on Satoko. Something sinister is in the air, and when Yûsaku comes back from a business trip to Japanese-controlled Manchuria, he is stunned by evidence of war crimes carried out there by Japan’s Kwantung army. Disgusted by his country, he plans to pass on details to the international community and chiefly the Americans: Satoko realises that this makes her the wife of a spy and the question of her own personal and political loyalties, and her husband’s, are a tense enigma to the very end.
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