Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5
Original Title: Marusa No Onna
Japan, 1987. New Century Producers, Itami Productions. Screenplay by Jûzô Itami. Cinematography by Yonezô Maeda. Produced by Seigo Hosogoe, Yasushi Tamaoki. Music by Toshiyuki Honda. Production Design by Shûshi Nakamura. Film Editing by Akira Suzuki.
The success of Juzo Itami’s first feature film as director, The Funeral, put him in a higher tax bracket that brought him into contact with Japan’s revenue service in a way that he had never before experienced. It inspired him to make the world of income tax auditing the milieu in which his third film would take place, once again teaming up his Tampopo stars Tsutomu Yamazaki and Nobuko Miyamoto (in real life also Itami’s wife).
Miyamoto plays Ryoko Itakura, an ace auditor who can spot fraud in the blink of an eye and wields her assessments as if with a nimble, deadly blade. She is merciless with small business owners and fearless when faced with the blustering intimidation of the owner of a crafty pachinko parlour, so it comes as no surprise to us when she pursues the investigation of shady corporate tycoon Gondo (Yamazaki) with devoted fervour, even when Gondo’s associates begin to threaten her and her family.
Itakura’s efforts get her promoted to investigator and see her join a team that sweeps into numerous situations that they clean up thanks to her thorough research and clever, perceptive understanding of human behaviour, but when her new boss is tipped off by an informant about further evidence against Gondo, she jumps back into that case with a passionate desire to see it through to its satisfying end. Gondo himself reacts with unperturbed ease at the thought of being audited, playing it cool and allowing Itakura to look into the legitimate businesses he runs, “love hotels”, which she is certain are fronts for more nefarious gangster dealings happening behind the scenes.
While following his contacts and interviewing him directly, Itakura also develops, if not a deep sympathy for the man, some manner of human connection that leads them to a different conclusion than what either of them were expecting. Another huge hit in Japan for the endlessly inventive Itami, this one is a bit too long and the story eventually becomes a mass of idiosyncratic back and forth about tax evidence without building to an exciting climax, but the hot colours on screen and funky soundtrack are blended beautifully with the exuberant performances, and the overall effect is pleasing.
Toronto International Film Festival: 1987
Venice Film Festival: In Competition