(out of 5)
Ken Ichikawa’s glory days might have been in the Burmese Harp era, but this late masterpiece shows an artist who was in absolutely no danger of slowing down. Based on the epic novel by Junichiro Tanizaki, it details the lives of four Kyoto sisters, two of them married and the other two hanging in the balance as they try to organize their future in late thirties Japan. It’s a world on the brink of unforeseeable change, with third sister Yukiko reacting to her suitors with dissatisfaction, while youngest sister Taeko defies familial code by being secretly engaged to a lover for six years (she cannot marry until her elder sister has done so) and then abandoning him for a bartender after she decides she no longer cares about her family’s approval. The two older sisters have issues of their own to deal with, as Tsuruko’s husband announces that he has taken a job in Tokyo and Sachiko, the heart of the film and the most introspective of the sisters (also the film’s best performance) deals with the emotional weight of everyone else’s conflicts. She’s also trying to keep her own marriage afloat, which is difficult considering that her husband looks a little too longingly at her younger sister. There are long scenes of heavy, richly intelligent dialogue, broken up by the occasional visual flourish that feeds the eye as much as the rest of the film feeds the soul; were it not for the painfully dated eighties soundtrack (the synthesized music pours liberally out of your speakers) it would be timeless, but that’s a small complaint to make of an otherwise exceptional masterwork.
Directed by Kon Ichikawa
Cinematography by Kiyoshi Hasegawa
Produced by Kazuo Baba
Production Design by Shinobu Muraki
Film Editing by Chizuko Osada