‘Wife of a Spy’ review: Thriller targets nationalism

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With “Wife of a Spy,” a melodramatic wartime period piece, prolific Japanese horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa, regarded for balancing psychological thrills with introspective meditations, is exploring a different, a lot more mysterious floor.

Taking location in 1940 Kobe, Japan, “Wife of a Spy” follows Yusaku (Issey Takahashi), an enigmatic businessman, and his trophy wife, Satoko Fukuhara (Yu Aoi), during Globe War II. Satoko’s childhood friend Taiji (Masahiro Higashide), now a squad leader in the military police, suspects Yusaku of treason due to the fact of his deep ties with John Fitzgerald Drummond, an Englishman ostensibly busted for buying and selling in unlawful silk but suspected of espionage.

The exacting time period depth by output designer Norifumi Ataka even further elucidates Taiji’s suspicions. In a Japan rejecting Western customs to aid local traditions, Satoko and Yusaku are residing in a Western-fashion villa, with European outfits and imported whiskey. Yusaku and his nephew Fumio (Ryota Bando) are also getting copious visits exterior Japan. Just one these kinds of expedition can take them to Manchuria, wherever they uncover the real-everyday living human screening, like vivisection, that the Japanese-backed Device 731 (although not especially named) carried out on the regional Chinese population.

Outside of this seismic revelation, the terrific trick to “Wife of a Spy” is Satoko. She does not know about her husband’s dealings, his role as an intermediary concerning enemy countries or about the secretive lady (Hyunri) he delivers again from Manchuria. Rather, Satoko life in blissful ignorance by having fun with her lavish home and her dutiful servant and starring in the self-developed B-heist videos her spouse results in. Equivalent to other Japanese citizens, she provides her full aid to the empire, building “Wife of a Spy” — which borrows narrative things from Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” — about her political awakening.

Aoi as Satoko styles her character’s ethical journey considerably past the capacity of a dialogue-major script co-created by Kurosawa with Ryusuke Hamaguchi (“Asako I & II”) and Tadashi Nohara. Initially, Satoko behaves with timidity. In a eating place scene, for example, she concerns her spouse about his vacation to Manchuria. The restraint on her experience and in her physique, as even though taped tightly, speaks to her inside conflict. Later, when she discovers the real truth, her disposition flips to Machiavellian heights. This inverted identity does not altogether monitor: How the as soon as gilded housewife disposes of a loved 1 without the need of hesitation is not convincing. But the nimble Aoi will make the unbelievable change perform.

Kurosawa initially fashioned “Wife of a Spy” as a television movie, and it intermittently shows. Japanese broadcaster NHK requested for the film to be shot on 8k electronic, rendering the time period drama with a crispness that aesthetically seems to be out of put. The sets are also also big, revealing the film’s sound stage artifice. In one particular scene, which normally takes spot on the hull of a ship, the space captured is so vast that the location has a generic search and feel. Right here, the lone American actors, two facet characters occupying the ship, are in the vicinity of-comical in their awful acting. When the exaggerated performances are supposed, they diffuse the heart-racing scene of any drama.

Although “Wife of a Spy” labors as a melodramatic secret, it swims as a cautionary tale about rampant nationalism. Taiji, for illustration, at 1st a excellent-natured man, turns monstrous to protect the empire. Significantly of the violence transpires off-screen: But a torture scene provides jagged edges to this tranquil time period drama, even though the footage of an internment camp and its prisoners adds further, visceral warnings. The elongated scenes, relying on acute blocking and calculated pans, further lock audiences in just Kurosawa’s prepared rigidity.

The film’s conclusion leans too closely to the melodramatic. But Kurosawa’s certain course is ample to make “Wife of a Spy” an enrapturing, elegant wartime time period piece.

‘Wife of a Spy’

In Japanese and English, with English subtitles

Rating: Not rated

When: Opens Friday

Exactly where: Landmark Hillcrest

Jogging time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

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