‘WIFE OF A SPY’ (2020) Review – ‘Kurosawa as always provides a laser-focused attention to detail that is at times staggering’

Wife of a Spy (2020) Kino Lorber

Directed By: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Starring: Yu Aoi, Issey Takahashi, Masahiro Higashide

Plot Summary: Master filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure, Tokyo Sonata) won the Silver Lion (Best Director) at the Venice Film Festival for this riveting, gorgeously crafted, old-school Hitchcockian thriller shot in stunning 8K. The year is 1940 in Kobe, on the eve of the outbreak of World War II. Local merchant and amateur filmmaker Yusaku (Issey Takahashi, Kill Bill) senses that things are headed in an unsettling direction. Following a trip to Manchuria, he becomes determined to bring to light the things he witnessed there, and secretly filmed. Meanwhile, his wife Satoko (Japan Society’s 2021 HonoreeYûAoi) receives a visit from her childhood friend, now a military policeman. He warns her about Yusaku’s seditious ways and reveals that a woman her husband brought back from his trip has died. Satoko confronts Yusaku, but when she discovers his true intentions, she is torn between loyalty to her husband, the life they have built, and the country they call home.

Nicholas Kemp (Kino Lorber Team)

Wife of a Spy is the latest feature film from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure). I will say that this movie is probably not going to do it for casual film watchers. Indeed, the movie is slow paced and requires the viewer’s utmost attention. Kurosawa does throw a lot of information and characters at you, and it does feel like a chore in keeping up with the narrative. Having said that, there is a lot to admire about Wife of a Spy. The story, whilst needlessly complex, it does capture a WWII landscape rife with paranoia, betrayal and on a larger scale duty to the ones you love vs. to one’s own country. Taking this a step further, the overall theme of the movie is what you’re willing to do for the supposed greater good and what the cost of that is. Though maybe heavy handed, I think it’s an interesting and wholly necessary through line given the material. It does feature some nice Hitchcock-like flourishes and some tense moments.

Nicholas Kemp (Kino Lorber Team)

On a technical level, Kurosawa as always provides a laser-focused attention to detail that is at times staggering. First time DP Tatsunosuke Sasaki gives the movie a really big scope and feel that captures a certain kind of melancholia. The use of natural lighting is quite striking and further helps give Wife of a Spy its beautiful and at times ethereal look. Production designer Norifumi Ataka (Cure, Shutter) and costume designer Haruki Koketsu (Alice in Borderland) further helps give this period film a great deal of life and authenticity.

Wife of a Spy is a convoluted melodrama that maybe could have leaned more on the thriller aspect. Still, it’s a harrowing, well-crafted and interesting movie from a master filmmaker.