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The Wife Of A Spy-Kiyoshi Kurosawa's wartime thriller

Reviewed by Robin Menken

Making the most of a TV budget, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s wartime espionage-melodrama Wife of a Spy won the 2020 Silver Lion at the Venice film festival.

Kurosawa (To the Ends of the Earth) who started on low budget Yakuza films, went on to direct thrillers after a scholarship to the Sundance Institute. But it was his prescient J-techno-horror film Pulse, and J-horror titles CureCreepy and The Grudge that represent how International audiences best know him.

It's 1940. Prosperous cloth merchant Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi- Kill Bill Vol1&2) and wife Satoko (Yu Ahoi) live in the busy port town of Kobe.

Yû Aoi is exceptional as Satoko, a movie actress and submissive wife, married to Yusaku, whose Western life style, liberal politics and ongoing business with  foreigners put the couple at increasing risk in nationalist Japan.

Yusaku produces a mystery film, starring Sotoko.The brief sequence of the film within a film echoes throughout: in one later sequence Satoko unconsciously replays a moment from the film, and it ironically replays in the last act.

One day, former school friend Taiji (Masahiro Higashide-Asako I & II and The Kirishima Thing) visits Yusaku at his office. Freshly in uniform, Taiji has been posted to Kobe as Squad leader in the Kobe Police Squad, busy rounding up suspected spies.

Taiji still nurses his crush on Sotoko, and as the story heats up, repeatedly warns her to abandon her Western lifestyle, lest she and Yusaku fall under suspicion as traitors.

One of Yusaku's British clients, John Fitzgerald Drummand, has been arrested. Yusaku posts Drummond's bail. Expelled from Japan, Drummand flees to the international settlement in Shanghai, where "There’s still some freedom left."

Satoko, shielded from politics by her doting husband, replies, "The international Settlement, lovely!" "He's not going on vacation", Yusaku affectionately chides.

Nephew-employee, Fumio (Ryôta Bandô- Honey Lemon Soda) also in Yusaku's film, travels to Manchuria with Yusaku, supposedly to buy cheap ore, grain and medicine.

When they return they are accompanied by attractive mystery woman Hiroko Kusakabe (TV vet Hyunri). They also bring proof of the Kwantung Army’s secret biological warfare experiments that killed thousands of Manchurian civilians. Yusaku plans to smuggle materials to the West to bring the US into the war.

What follows is a slow-building triple cross suspensor, which doubles as a compelling neo-feminist tale, as naive, jealous Satoko awakens from clueless, patriotic submission and becomes a woman willing to risk everything for her husband's universalist mission.

 

 

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