Wife Of A Spy | Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa | Written by Kurosawa, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi, and Tadashi Nohara | 115 min
Kobe, 1940. The military presence in Japan is cracking down on free thinking merchants and amateur filmmakers like Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi), who heads to Manchuria with his nephew on a business trip. Is that all he’s doing? When he returns after much delay, his wife, Satoko (Yû Aoi), isn’t so sure. It turns out Yusaku witnessed an atrocity that he can’t live with, but it sure takes awhile to understand the genuine height of the stakes in this picture.
Wife Of A Spy is a based-on-actual-events mystery and melodrama that’s not only set in Japan’s pre-war period, it also wants you to think it was made back then, complete with a stiffness in the performances and a certain formality in the mise-en-scène. Satoko’s understanding about the actual intentions of her husband, to betray his country because he holds it to a higher moral law — “I’m a cosmopolitan,” he claims — infuses the film with a welcome intensity and helps inform all that’s gone before and coming ahead. Unfortunately, it doesn’t solve the film’s plot problems.
The emotional conclusion is a full 15 minutes before the actual end of the film, and around Yusaku’s final motivations it leaves more questions than answers, while Satoko’s character arc — at one point she achieves both an individual agency and genuine partnership with her husband — is cast aside for something that feels a lot less satisfying. While Kurosawa’s ambition to tackle a dark chapter in Japan’s past is laudable, there’s a lot here that could’ve been better.
The Worst Person In The World (aka Verdens verste menneske) | Directed by Joachim Trier | Written by Trier and Eskil Vogt | 127 min
The third part of Trier’s loose Oslo trilogy — simply named because these are three films he made in the Norwegian capital — this picture is a wonderful romantic dramedy signalling the arrival of a fully fledged star, Renate Reinsve.
She’s Julie, just turning 30 and like a lot of people is still uncertain about the direction she wants to take her life. In her studies she shifts from surgery to psychology to photography, ending up working at a bookstore, while also struggling with finding any security or satisfaction in her romantic life. The reliable, slightly older cartoonist, Askel (Anders Danielsen Lie), is great in a lot of ways, but he wants a baby and pressures her to get pregnant even though she says she isn’t ready.
One night, on a whim, she crashes a wedding reception. There she meets Eivind (Herbert Nordrum), who while happily involved with his environmentalist girlfriend finds himself compelled by Julie’s evident free spirit. And all of this is only scratching the surface of what The Worst Person In The World has in store. Trier has a master’s confidence with tone, shifting between light romance to a Scandinavian’s grasp of existential crises to meta-humour and fairly sharp social commentary, without it ever feeling awkward or false.
Add to that cinematography capturing the loveliness of summery Norway, a wonderful score, and not a weak performance in the cast, all makes for a genuinely special film. If Dakota Johnson-lookalike Renate Reinsve’s English is good, expect to see her name above titles in Hollywood by 2023.