Rating: 4 out of 5
This period drama set in 1946 Tokyo is about a down-and-out novelist named Otami (Tadanobu Asano) and the misery his loutish and loathsome behaviour heaps upon his wife, Sachi (an enchanting Takako Matsu).
The film opens with Otami returning home in a drunken stupor (we soon learn that he’s never not in a drunken stupor) only to be chased down by a pair of middle-aged tavern keepers. Apparently Otami’s alcoholism has run up a gigantic tab (to the tune of ¥20,000) and to make things worse - he’s just robbed the joint of ¥5,000! Otami practically admits his guilt when he pulls a knife and takes off into the night.
An embarrassed Sachi takes it upon herself to clear Otami’s debt by working it off at the couple’s pub and professes herself to be a ‘hostage’ until the money is returned. It’s at first perplexing that this woman would be willing to do such a thing for her boorish husband.
This man is a conceited, suspicious, suicidal coward and a lowlife of the highest order. It’s not just his disregard of Sachi and their two-year-old son that’s despicable; it’s the way in which he treats Sachi with such contempt and the cruel way he flaunts his infidelity in her face while simultaneously accusing his ever-faithful wife of cheating on him.
Just to give you an idea of the kind woman Sachi is, when she encounters her husband’s mistress in the bar, she pleads the innkeepers not to reveal that she is Otami’s wife – because she doesn’t want to embarrass him. When you juxtapose this with her sake-fuelled husband, it’s hard to be sympathetic to the vainglorious writer and not label him a grade-A bastard.
Kichitaro Negishi’s impeccable direction strikes the perfect chord because while it’s clear who you’re rooting for, it never degenerates into melodrama. No screaming matches or plot contrivances, just an honestly meditative depiction of a woman doing her best to keep on being as good-hearted and friendly as she can be.
The Yasujirō Ozu-esque camerawork is vividly reminiscent of 1940s-era Japanese cinema and partly serves as a visual shortcut to that decade. More importantly though, Ozu flourishes such as low-angled ‘tatami shots’, over-the-shoulder perspectives and lingering surveys upon characters’ faces, adds to the ruminative feel of the film.
Based on Osamu Dazai's semi-autobiographical 1947 novel, its worth noting that Dazai modelled Otami after himself. In fact, the depressed wordsmith committed suicide himself a year after the book’s publication. However unlike Otami, Dazai is obviously self-aware enough to publish his faults (the titular Villon is in reference to François Villon, a wayfaring French poet and thief) as unflatteringly as possible.
Asano and Matsu play their parts to a tee and praise should be lavished according to how much they make you hate or love their characters’ respectively. Sachi specifically, is the proto-feminist patron saint of patience, and Matsu’s portrayal of her strength is continually stunning to behold.
About Hidzir Junaini
Hidzir Junaini, is 23-years-old and a wealthy playboy billionaire by day and a caped crusader by night. Only one of those is true. He’s actually a freelance writer, blogger, full-time film buff and some-time socially awkward nerd. He also writes about music, restaurants and nightlife for MetroWize Asia.
Hidzir was the winner of the inaugural inSing Movie Lover contest that garnered over 1,000 participants. The Movie Lover contest is a search for a candidate who possesses outstanding passion for movies and a talent for writing engaging movie reviews.