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Wife of a Spy
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Ryusuke Hamaguchi and Tadashi Nohara
Starring Yu Aoi, Issey Takahashi and Masahiro Higashide
Classification N/A; 115 minutes
Opens in Toronto, Ottawa, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton and Vancouver theatres Oct. 22
The ultra-prolific Japanese director Kiyoshi Kurosawa is one of the finest purveyors of a certain kind of under-the-skin horror. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to watch the filmmaker’s Cure, Retribution, Daguerrotype or Pulse (not the American remake, please), then you have a wonderfully upsetting Halloween playlist to look forward to. But what to make of his latest, decidedly non-horror production, Wife of a Spy, which played the film festival circuit last year and is making its way to a surprisingly robust number of Canadian theatres this weekend?
While Kurosawa is not unfamiliar with helming straight, or straighter-edged, drama – add his masterpiece Tokyo Sonata to your watch-list, too – it is still a slight smack of cognitive dissonance to see his name attached to Wife of a Spy, the director’s first period piece in a filmography marked by interrogations of contemporary culture.
Following the fraught relationship between Satoko (Yu Aoi) and Yusaku (Issey Takahashi) as the former begins to suspect that the latter is a spy for the Americans, Kurosawa’s work here is Hitchcock-lite melodrama, stripped – or rather clean-shaven – of many of the filmmaker’s genre-heavy idiosyncrasies.
This shouldn’t be marked as a deficit, though. If anything, Kurosawa hits high marks by staring a story straight in the eyes, and finessing every narrative bump to deliver the smoothest, most satisfying historical drama you’re likely to see this fall.
The story is captivating, the characters are magnificently fleshed out, and the emotional stakes are entirely, utterly believable. If Wife of a Spy marks an entirely new pivot in Kurosawa’s enigmatic career, then so be it. Horror fans are patient – we can wait for the next Pulse. So long as it’s not another American reboot, that is.
In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.