Blu-ray Review: Wife of a Spy | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, November 27th, 2021  

Wife of a Spy

Studio: Kino Lorber

Nov 21, 2021 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Dependable, rock-solid dramas with thriller-like flourishes seem to be an increasingly rare breed in contemporary cinema. Even if Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Wife of a Spy is ultimately a fine film and no more, it still scratches that particular itch. It’s a satisfying adult drama that touches on real-world conflicts and complicated human emotions.

Wife of a Spy opens in 1940 on the exterior of an import-export business in Kobe, Japan. A British man is arrested under aspersions of being a foreign agent as tensions related to World War II continue to ramp up. Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi), the head of the business, defends his friend from the allegations and later laughs them off when brought up again. Either he’s covering for him or he finds the mere suggestion that he could be a spy to be ridiculous. It’s almost certainly the latter as he’s perfectly content to while away war times running his business while making amateur movies with his wife Satoko (Yu Aoi) and nephew Fumio (Ryota Bando). He even talks about seeing the latest Kenji Mizoguchi film in the cinema, which he hears is a masterpiece. Looking at Mizoguchi’s filmography, the unspecified film is likely A Woman of Osaka, which is the only movie of his released in 1940.

On a trip to Manchuria, Yusaku and Fumio witness horrible experiments being conducted by the Japanese government. This includes, but is not limited to, spreading the plague on unwitting members of the population. He captures it on film, obtains a top-secret document outlining the experiments, and sneaks a woman back to Kobe. Meanwhile, Satoko is blissfully unaware and generally naive. She flaunts a friendship with Taiji (Masahiro Tagashida), a male childhood acquaintance and rising member in the military police. Later, when confronted with the truth of what her husband is up to, she argues that she’d rather be happy and ignorant than miserable and altruistic.

The initial tension, at least from Satoko’s perspective, is the notion that Yusaku is having an affair. It’s obvious to the viewer that this is almost certainly not the case. His attempts to keep Satoko in the dark - as a way of protection, what she doesn’t know can’t be used against her - only deepen her suspicions. When he comes clean, it’s a shock. He’s a traitor to their country. More importantly, in a time of war, he’s putting his family and livelihood in danger for what, to her, seems to be an abstract cause. That is until she sees the footage.

This winds up being the crux of the film and supplies the most important philosophical question at its core. When presented with a moral quandary, can you put your own well-being and future on the line for justice and the greater good even if it spells certain doom? Satoko wrestles with this. And maybe Yusaku did, too, but Satoko is the driving force of the narrative and her perspective is from a place of very little agency, traditionally. She’s the housewife. Even in Yusaku’s altruistic fervor, he expects her to simply fall in line to his order without question. Instead, she awakens and has to confront her fears as well as her prescribed station even if success is far from guaranteed.

Wife of a Spy is described as a Hitchcockian thriller on the back of the Kino Lorber release, which is the latest evidence that terms don’t mean anything anymore. It’s a fine drama, but it lacks the lightness of Hitchcock’s work while also being far more pointed about its moral center. It’s a throwback, sure, but it doesn’t give a Hitchcockian vibe at all. This isn’t to say better or worse, just different.

It’s co-written by Ryusuke Hamaguchi, whose film Drive My Car is receiving significant praise on the festival circuit this year. The script is one of its strongest suits as it is very expertly plotted with no filler. The disc is sadly pretty bare, featuring a making-of featurette and a trailer.

For those who have followed Kurosawa’s career since his early forays in horror like the phenomenal Cure and iconic Pulse, Wife of a Spy furthers his departure from genre cinema, but the craft and care remains intact. This isn’t a filmmaker who looks down on his roots, but is simply interested in a variety of styles and stories. And he’s very competent at them all.



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