JAPAN CUTS: Wife of a Spy (スパイの妻) Review

Wife of a Spy

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa has made a name for himself in the horror genre with such classics as Pulse and Cure. However, with Wife of a Spy, the horror auteur expands to do something he’s never done before: A dramatic period thriller. Of course, Kurosawa uses his experience in horror to create a film full of tension and anxiety thanks to Japan’s fervent nationalism in the 40s. This stimulating and restrained Hitchcockian melodrama represents yet another unexpected shift for Kurosawa. 

Wife of a Spy follows successful silk merchant Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi), a cosmopolitan liberal married to his trophy wife, Satoko (Yu Aoi). When a trip to Manchuria changes the course of his life, he decides to reveal to the world what he saw. His actions, unfortunately, force his wife to forget the comfortable life she knows forever.

Like Hitchcock’s woman-in-peril films of the 40s, Wife of a Spy is thematically about the loyalty, trust, and betrayal between the two central characters. With Yusaku, his disgust at the militaristic nationalism of the period makes you instantly like him. Sadly, Satoko’s apolitical views will have you questioning her loyalty throughout the film. Wife of a Spy establishes early on that Satoko is an actress, albeit in Yusaku’s own film. Hence, when she goes around helping Yusaku, you question if she’s playing him or if she’s sincere. After all, she does betray him early on in the film. The air of tension is familiar from Kurosawa’s many trips into the unknown. For Wife of a Spy, Kurosawa doesn’t need ghosts and curses to give you feelings of dread. The era’s war atrocities do that for him.

For Wife of a Spy, Kurosawa doesn’t need ghosts and curses to give you feelings of dread. The era’s war atrocities do that for him.

This aspect of the movie could’ve become something out of a soap opera. Yet, Kurosawa’s experience in horror helped prevent this from happening. It also helps that Yu Aoi and Issey Takahashi’s performances were both so profound. The pair exhibit a great sense of nuance in their performance, which significantly adds some weight to their relationship. Their perfect relationship is put to the test with so much on the line. Not to mention, Yasuharu (Masahiro Higashide) provides another clear and present danger for Yusaku. Not only does his military presence emit peril for our heroes, but he also exhibits a liking towards Satoko. This makes him an enemy of Yusaku on multiple levels.

However, Wife of a Spy does take some patience in watching it. Kurosawa takes his time building the movie, which in turn, takes time to find its groove. At the same time, Kurosawa doesn’t use many of the film’s key moments to build upon the suspense. While the tension is palpable throughout, it plateaus and never increases to become an edge-of-your-seat thriller.

Overall, Wife of a Spy is a taut war thriller that thrives on the beautiful cast performances and the directorial experiences of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. However, its failure to build upon its tense foundations resulted in a movie that could’ve been Kurosawa’s magnum opus but ultimately, doesn’t reach those heights. Nevertheless, don’t let that deter you from watching this poignant television flick.

Rating: 4/5 atoms

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Mark Pacis
Mark Pacis 1702 posts

Self-proclaimed "Human IMDb" and comic book geek. Biggest Iron Man fan you'll probably ever meet.

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