Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Makioka Sisters (1983)

Tonight's Netflix film was THE MAKIOKA SISTERS, a 1983 Japanese film I became interested in after reading reviews by Glenn Erickson and Mike Clark. The movie was recently released on DVD by Criterion.

One reviewer I came across referred to THE MAKIOKA SISTERS as "an Eastern Jane Austen story," and the description is not far wrong. The film is much concerned with making a proper marriage, and there's even a headstrong younger sister who causes a minor scandal when she runs off with a boyfriend (shades of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE). The film may be slightly racier than Austen, but in a tasteful, restrained way.

Michael Wilmington, on the other hand, compares the film to THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS (1942), because it depicts a once-great family which is declining economically in changing times, as its members scatter to new lives.

The film is the story of four upper-class sisters in 1930s Japan. Tsuruko (Keiko Kishi) and Sachiko (Yoshiko Sakuma) are the married older sisters whose husbands (Juzo Itami and Koji Ishizaka) even took the prestigious Makioka name.

The sisters, whose parents are long deceased, are endlessly concerned with marrying off beautiful but shy Yukiko (Sayuri Yoshinaga). Yukiko loves deeply and yearns to be a mother, as evidenced by her loving care of Sachiko's sickly daughter, but she is holding out for true love and refuses to settle for various proposed matches.

The sisters are expected to marry in order of age, a source of frustration for Westernized Taeko (Yuko Kotegawa). Taeko, who wants a career, causes her sisters endless headaches; it was her attempt to elope as a teenager that has created problems ever since.

The film is slow paced but completely absorbing, between the rich performances of the actors and the fascination, as an American, of watching the depiction of an upper-class lifestyle in 1930s Japan. The rituals and customs, the manner in which the characters interact, and the bits of Westernization creeping into the culture are all extremely interesting. The movie is also exquisitely beautiful, with gorgeous depictions of the four seasons in Japan, as well as stunning, colorful kimonos.

The movie was directed by Kon Ichikawa. It's based on a novel by Junichiro Tanizaki. The film runs 2 hours and 20 minutes.

As a side note, I'm completely baffled by Leonard Maltin's 2-star review of this excellent film. I hope he re-evaluates it at some point. I highly recommend the movie as a rich and broadening viewing experience.

Another review has been posted at j.b. spins.

This film is available in the Criterion Barnes and Noble sale which is taking place until August 1st. It's also available from Amazon.

The trailer can be seen on YouTube.


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