Wife Of A Spy is an exquisitely crafted film from Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure, Tokyo Sonata). The film, in Japanese with English subtitles, takes place in Kobe, Japan, pre-war 1940. Satoko (Yū Aoi, Japan Society’s 2021 Honoree) is a housewife and amateur film actress married to Yusaku (Issey Takahashi, Kill Bill), a very well to do fabric and clothing trader in 1940 Kobe. Yusaku is also a passionate amateur filmmaker.
The story revolves around Yusaku’s weeks long trip to Manchuria where he shoots film footage and gets documentation from a doctor who collaborated on the Manchurian Testing and Massacre. This event, well documented today, was a program to design and test out Biological Weapons including plague on the Manchurian population. Yusaku tries to keep Satoko from finding out, wanting her to just live a “happy life”. However, as Satoko reads things, Yusaku went to Manchuria, having an affair with a pretty Japanese woman who was a nurse there. She starts investigating, believing that she is the Wife Of A Spy.
The movie is very even-handed on the main subject, which was one of the most heinous events perpetrated on an unknowing people. Yusaku is trying to make others in the US aware of the goings on in Manchuria. Soon, Satoko gets drawn into a web of intrigue, complicated by the fact that childhood friend Taiji is now highly placed in the Japanese army and tasked to track down subversives. What will happen next is a plot of epic proportions, with turns that director Kiyoshi Kurosawa makes you wonder what will happen next. Indeed, Wife of a Spy has been compared to the Hitchcock thriller genre; and the director moves the plot along while always leaving the audience wondering. Ultimately, the protagonists must choose which is more important–their country or their conscience.
The production is wonderful, with the authentic feel of pre-WW2 Japan. Kurosawa (no relation to Rashamon and Seven Samurai director Akira Kurosawa) directs with a deft hand, not overdoing his control of the actors, instead of allowing them to shine in each role. Kino Lorber has ensured that the gorgeous 8K cinematography make it to the big screen (it is reduced to 2K for theaters but it is still stunning). The film itself works very well with the superb acting driving the story. English subtitles are well-done, allowing the story to flow well for American audiences. As with Hitchcock’s movies, Kurosawa tends to let actions rather than dialogue move the film. His deft use of sound effects and music certainly adds to the tension in Wife Of A Spy; and it very well done.
What will be interesting, will be Japan’s take on this movies as they confront a very black period in their history. In the US, the movie shows a story which many may not be aware of, as a warning of what kinds of experiments can go dangerously out of control. All in all, this is a must see movie on many levels; and should be seen as a gorgeous period piece from Kurosawa, who won the Silver Lion Award for directing at the Venice Film Festival.
Wife of a Spy has its West Coast release in Los Angles on September 24. The film will be shown at the Laemmle Royal and other Laemmle theaters. Kino Lorber is taking care of the US distribution. For anyone who is interested in seeing an exquisitely crafted thriller, Wife Of A Spy is a must-see.