The wife of a spy: light shines eternally for Issey Takahashi and Yû Aoi in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s otherwise daily thriller.
The last of Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure, Tokyo Sonata) is billed as an “old-school Hitchcock thriller”. Master has been dead for over 40 years. All this servile delineation has long since passed the stage of overwork. We can’t wait to see the critical blurb, “A Thriller Owing Nothing to Hitchcock” splashed on an IMDB banner ad. While waiting for the next big novelty, we will have to be content The wife of a spy.
We are opening in Kobe, Japan, with the country on the brink of war. The attention to detail in the cut and texture of the stunningly stitched costumes from costume designer Haruki Koketsu is simply stunning. It’s as if you could run a hand over the screen and feel the grain of the clothes. So it’s fitting that our first stop is a raw silk inspection center run by Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi). Police are taking Mr. Drummond, the closest non-Asian business associate of Yusaku, a British spy known to have leaked military secrets. The love of the silk merchant’s country ends just before posting a bond for Drummond’s double play. But he deplores the Briton’s arrest, especially in light of the Japanese government’s complacency with the Italians and Germans.
Taiji (Higashide Masahiro), a senior military official and childhood friend of Yasaku and his wife Satoko (Aoi Yû), is entrusted with the case. Yasaku disagrees with Taiji, believing him to be a rival for Satoko’s ailments. Taiji advises Yasaku to choose his friends wisely, especially when they are strangers. His sense of nationalism is such that he intimidates Satoko from dressing like a Westerner and drinking American whiskey. (When she later shows up at the Taiji office to ask for a favor, she comes draped in a kimono.) If this was a film noir, the two historical buddies would reunite in the dark, physically separated by beams of shadows. But Yusaku’s universe is one of a sunny order, and it’s the icy gauze of light filtering through the Venetian blinds that separates them. Kurosawa’s choice of a “white film” approach is brought into play with sufficient regularity to maintain a high level of graphic interest. Taiji leaves on as positive a note as possible for a fascist like him; he would rather not shut down an old friend, but business is business. He leaves apologizing for his rudeness.
It’s to Kurosawa’s credit that the usual romantic triangle he seems to be heading us towards is supposed to put us out of the question. After all, he’s the guy who gave us the right title Sinister. He’s not going to take care of the top of the bridge. Where is he? Do you want me to issue a spoiler alert? A series of flashbacks take us through the couple’s past, starting with the springtime of Yusaku’s life as a filmmaker. The 16mm film reel heralded in the first reel returns to have a major plot impact. The director’s eye for recreating a silent film is most compelling, but as part of an original script, it stutters like the subplot of a long novel condensed for the screen. The same goes for a murder in which Yasuka may have played a part. At other times, Kurosawa forces his stylistic hand into our throats: like when he places a box of feathers on a bedroom shelf for a character to recklessly throw in the air. Stylistic movements like this take motivation.
A military battalion enters the station just in time to see Yusaku leave. With a confident movement of the camera and with the soldiers in the background, Kurosawa gathers the spy, his fiancée and their nephew. The director knows how to unite his characters in a tangible way; it’s the spark of excitement between the tracks that it can’t quite ignite.
Kurosawa’s depraved origins will not be overlooked. The declawing of a villain is tastefully depicted. Even the film’s most significant dramatic revelation – Yusaku witnessing the mass burning of the corpses of plague victims – is delivered in a lengthy monologue, the kind that makes things clear for the character and the viewer.
Throughout the film, Yusaka questions Satoko’s claim to the titular appellation. Yusaku’s allegiance is not to his country, but to universal justice. Kurosawa’s overall commitment to innovation seems withered. It’s a pretty enjoyable ride, especially Kurosawa’s bold use of outdoor light, but when it comes to storytelling, not much is illuminated. Currently showing at Landmark Hillcrest Theaters. ??
Video on demand and summary of new versions
The attack on Hollywood clichés – The recycling of corn is as essential to the narrative delay of cinema as the regurgitation of porridge is to the gastrointestinal tract of a cow. Hollywood’s overall commitment to lack of originality and consumers washing it down like dog water is a topic that takes a lot more time than this hour-long Netflix Comedy Special can, but it’s a beginning. With ten writers and / or directors to its credit, the series begins on a small random screen all its own. Remember when SNLThe weekend update opened with “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not”? The host of this special introduces himself with, “Unlike you, I’m Rob Lowe.” A litany of literal redundancy parades before us: meet cuties, maverick cops, brawls atop moving wagons, angry office sweeps, high-heeled chases, wand heels sticking out of shopping bags, and jump scares are all given. (The latter is the brainchild of RKO horror / noir past master Val Lewton, whose 1942 version of Cat people blew audiences away with what has been called “the Lewton bus.”) The hitman coming out of retirement on one final murder, the lying flashback and certain death of anyone who sleeps or befriends Charles Bronson in a Death wish Photo. Critic Kim Newman observes that in the days of silence, audiences yawned when confronted with long headlines or laughed at the flowery prose it contained. Without dialogue to express their emotions, the characters turned to physical expression as a means of communication – hence the birth of fistfights as a staple of the cinematic experience. This leaves room for what I like to call the delicatessen slugfest. Rather than packing up the good guys en masse, each attacker takes their turn, as if waiting for the clerk to call their number. The only cliché they don’t marvel at is the use of special effects like opiate to cast a soporific haze over sophomoric minds quick to mistake CG codswallop for storytelling. 2021. – SM ??
Candy – When it ended, Candy was one of the few horror movies that found me staring over my shoulder as I walked to my car. What’s the first thing that separates him from the Bernard Rose original, a film that posed a housing project as a monster on the edge of Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast region? On the one hand, there is Sammy! A mention of the smelly and sweet charts in a 1992 horror film would have made audiences laugh. Here it acts as a slight reminder of the past. This is not the only difference. Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s latest isn’t so much a remake, like most sequels are, but a continuation, an update. It’s the same housing project – Chicago’s Cabrini Green’s CG recreation is so precise it looks like documentary footage – with the horror emerging from a different hole in the wall of the building. This time around, it takes less than five minutes for the titular bogeyman to appear, and the white guilt treatment is much sharper. Brianna (Teyonah Parris) doesn’t hesitate to state the obvious: “The whites built the ghetto and erased it when they realized they had built the ghetto. Devoting so much time to ignorance, Brianna lives in the very gentrified place where the infamous housing project once stood. There’s even a noticeable improvement: never repeat the title five times, especially when you’re alone in a mirrored elevator. One downside to contemporary thinking is the establishment of a seemingly honest character who goes south if for no other reason two villains are better than one. Other than that, there is enough here to get your nerves going. 2021. – SM ??
crying macho – Long before drones became the cinematographer’s best friend, Clint Eastwood chose passionless aerial shots to open the show. This is how we met Mike Milo (Eastwood), another infantryman in Eastwood’s army, a stranger with a dark past whom he prefers to forget as he plots the rocky road to redemption that awaits us. It’s 1979, and Mike accepts a job from Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), the same man who relieved him a year earlier from his rodeo role. Mike broke his back when a horse fell on him, and the pain relievers and alcohol that helped his recovery have since dulled his senses. Polk does him a favor: he needs Mike to pull his 13-year-old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from his unstable wife’s clutches and take him across the border. Mike obliges with what he calls “old fashioned loyalty”. At 91, Clint still considers himself a ladies’ man. The border officer flirts with the three pretty girls in the convertible before Mike. When asked about his business in Mexico, Mike replies, “I’m with them. He resists advances from Rafo’s mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), and we end with Mike in the arms of Marta (Natalia Traven), a sultry cantina owner immediately seduced by his charm. Leta even seems less concerned about her son being kidnapped by a stranger than she is by Mike scolding her sexual advances. She tells Mike about Rafo’s favorite hangout, a roosters fighting ring. Following a threat to break Macho’s neck, the boy’s prize rooster, Rafo appears from the shadows. Mike produces a photo of the boy when he was five, and fills his head talking about Polk owning a hundred horses and a rodeo to accompany them. Cry Macho moves at a leisurely pace, which cannot be said of Eastwood. Critics were taken aback by his ability to ride a horse and throw a punch. Eastwood scoffs at the idea of aging gracefully. Mike has gained a reputation as an animal whisperer and when the local Federale brings his dog in for examination, Mike confides in Rafo: “I don’t know how to cure the old.” He also whispers lies intended to convince Rafo that his rightful place is with his father. We start to see through the regular assurance that Polk is eager to be reunited with his boy. And Rafo is still too young to realize that Mike hasn’t dragged his shriveled carcass across the border without expecting a reward. Eastwood’s reflections find the concept of macho largely overdone. In the end, it’s Macho who saves the day (in more than one way). 2021. – SM ??