April 8, 2010

Khalid Mohammad reviews The Japanese Wife - 3.5 stars

The Japanese Wife
Cast: Rahul Bose, Chigasu Takaku, Raima Sen
Director: Aparna Sen
Rating: Three and a half stars

You return home with The Japanese Wife, the ninth feature film directed by Aparna Sen, the 64-year-old Kolkata-rooted actress. It stays with you. Although the tempo is excruciatingly slow and the screenplay repeats lines of dialogue as if they had been written by a squawking parrot, the result is limned with that near-extinct quality in cinema – humaneness.
Humanism was the leitmotif of Sen’s director and mentor –the great Satyajit Ray. Truly how you miss him. The actress he introduced in Teen Kanya (1961) has sought to carry the tradition forward, sticking to her home base and narrating stories that alternately rejoice and mourn with its characters. Of all her bids to take you through the heartscapes of her people, 36 Chowringhee Lane and Mr and Mrs Iyer remain her most accomplished, to-cherish-forever works.
Neither are her people grilled by grinning Mogambos. Nor are they paragons of virtue. They are buffeted by the societal circumstances and conditions around them, and by their own anxieties and desires. Take Paroma, in which adultery within a bhadra log house was tackled. In a way, Sen was retelling an updated Charulata, not with the same artistry, no way, but still it was a courageous effort,remarkable also for Raakhee’s career-best performance.
Vis-à-vis The Japanese Wife, it’s her most romantic work yet. Snag: it strikes you as largely implausible. A decade-and-a-half-long love story of a mild-mannered schoolteacher (Rahul Bose) in the Bengal interiors , and a chirpy girl (Chigasu Takaku) in a Japanese village, coerces you to suspend your sense of disbelief. Come on, this is much too far-fetched you go. They don’t set eyes on each other but behave as if they were to a Laila Majnu-manner born. Awww.
Okay, so what if the screenplay has been adapted from a story by the Oxford University-anchored Kunal Basu? The adaptation emphasises the innocence and the guilelessness of the odd couple, to the absolute exclusion of credibility. Placing the film’s dramaturgy within a realistic context – shooting on authentic locations, for instance – cannot prevent you from concluding that this is some kind of grim fairy tale. Which is why like it or not, The Japanese Wife isn’t as effective or as real (read: yes this could happen) as Sen’s Chowringhee or the ..Iyers.
Never mind. Because the outcome still clasps you in human bondage, the ironical finale moving you to tears. Without revealing the end, suffice it to say, the last 15 minutes or so vault way above the rest of the plotlet. Sen does it again, despite the obstacles and incredulous twists and turns on the way. She makes you care for her people. Genuinely.
The mousy teacher lives with his aunt (Moushumi Chatterjee, could have been more controlled). And the fey Japanese girl is bound to her home because of an ailing mother. Teacher and his oriental girl have been pen pals since years. Their letters to each other are read out, a device that is as unusual as it is endearing. So obsessive about each other, the two even believe that they are formally ‘married’. The Bengal hamlet is amused but can gets xenophobic during an Indo-Japanese kite flying competition. A somewhat protracted but disarmingly funny sequence this.
Something’s got to give. A young widow (Raima Sen) and her adolescent kid (Rudranil Ghosh) begin to crowd the teacher’s isolated life. Meanwhile, in Japan, the girl is hit by a terminal illness, forcing her to shift to Yokohama. Devastated, her ‘husband’ desperately seeks all forms of medical panaceas – unani, ayurvedic, allopathic.
A touching moment shows the girl in Japan drinking a mixture sent from India, and saying, “It has not shown any effects…but don’t worry…it will.” His hurried calls, with a mounting telephone meter, also make your heart go out to the teacher and to the only shred of love in his life. Earlier, he has been shown masturbating, and at another point, feels guilty about being attracted to the widow.Such moments are handled aesthetically and with maturity.
In fact, it is Aparna Sen’s intimate style that elevates the film beyond the archaic. But for references to email, a Bidi jalayele excerpt on television, you often feel lost in an earlier millennium. A Bengal village may be lost in time, certainly, but not to the extent of existing in a vacuum. On the upside, for social commentary Sen includes impactful asides like the widow refusing to eat fish served to her in a rustic restaurant, since denial is now her lot in life.

Read more HERE


Caulfield said...


Raja Sen - 2.5/5

While watching Aparna Sen's [ Images ] latest film The Japanese Wife -- in Bangla, with pretty decent English subtitles -- it's hard not to recognise the director as one who crafts the film, the frames, the shots with extreme care.

Moments are carved out meticulously in Sen's films-- as earthily splendid as that of a local medicine man scratching his hairy breast and pontificating proudly, armed with the condescension afforded to him by a knowledge of English -- and she is clearly marvellously skilled in the art of cinematic surgery, finding the perfect heartbeats for her narrative.

And so it is that The Japanese Wife, a wonderfully shot, skilfully acted adaptation of a most affectionate Kunal Basu story, has almost everything in its favour.

There are some vividly original moments, and a lot of very pleasant atmospherics. The mood of rural Bengal is captured lovingly by the camera, and thanks to much starkness and use of Japanese background music, the feel of the film is quite impressively like modern emotional cinema from Hong Kong and Korea.

As a film, however, it isn't an entirely satisfying experience. I haven't read Basu's story, but from the film it seems too brief and simplistic for a full-length feature, and most of this film passes by with such unhurried lack of necessity that it really doesn't matter if you're looking at the screen or not. It's very pretty, but most of it is unfortunately very pretty wallpaper.

The story is about an introverted Bangali boy called Snehomoy (Rahul Bose [ Images ]) who finds himself a Japanese penpal Miyage (Chigusa Takaku). Despite the fact that she can't pronounce her name (she calls him Senomoy, perhaps a self-winking nod by the director), the two realise that they can't open up to anybody in real life the way they do in their letters, and so much pidgin English is spoken in different accents as the two get to know each other.

It's all very well, and despite rather mundane communication shared with us the audience, the two decide they love each other and want to marry. By which we mean her sending him a ring while he sends her conchshell bangles, and the two carrying on without meeting, circumstances ensuring neither of them can travel to see the other for absolute decades.

Meanwhile the orphaned Snehomoy lives with an old aunt (Moushumi Chatterjee), his life complicated by the arrival of an unexpected houseguest, a pretty widow (Raima Sen [ Images ]) who comes to stay with her infuriating young toddler.

Read more from HERE

Pardesi said...

This may be the film to watch this weekend. It seems less outlandish than JKSAH and PRINCE!

Caulfield said...

Taran Adarsh

An Aparna Sen film is always special. Like her previous endeavours, THE JAPANESE WIFE [a film in Bengali with English sub-titles] also looks at relationships. Only thing, this time it's about two strangers, who start off as pen friends, exchange letters, get drawn towards each other, even get married through letters, but never meet each other. Despite staying apart and not meeting even once, the couple share an honest and chaste relationship, confiding the smallest of incident to one another, thru letters and phone calls.

This unique story [penned by Kunal Basu] is translated beautifully on celluloid thanks to Aparna Sen's deft handling of the material. Of course, a story like this unwinds at a leisurely pace, but there's no denying that the proceedings keep you engrossed for most parts, mainly towards the penultimate moments.

Aparna Sen also gets it right because her choice of actors is perfect. And the characters they portray are real as well as unreal. Real, because there do exist people who look beyond physical relationships and who eventually become soul mates. It's unreal at the same time because, in today's times, when love, sex and dhokha have become a norm, characters like Snehamoy and Miyage appear straight out of dreams. Do they belong to this era, really?

You may watch THE JAPANESE WIFE for varied reasons. But I recommend that you watch it with someone you love.

Read more from HERE

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