WIFE OF A SPY: A Matter of Trust

The award-winning film set in WWII-era Japan is now out on BluRay from Kino Lorber

Satoko (Yû Aoi) is a naive young woman married to a wealthy silk merchant in Kobe as Japan evolves into more of an assertive force in World War II. She play-acts in her husband’s homemade silent films, forages in the nearby hills, and writes letters to his family. But once her husband Yusaku (Issey Takahashi of Kill Bill and Whisper of the Heart) returns from a long trip to Manchuria with his nephew, Satoko senses they are hiding something from her.

Wife of a Spy is the latest project from filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa, originally made for Japanese TV, although the film is no less cinematic in scope. In the featurette included in the Kino Lorber Blu-ray, we see how much of the detail in this work is owed to the director’s instruction: From a branch lightly shaking in the breeze to the specific pan used for proof of a prisoner’s torture. Most of the film is bathed in light — the sunlight appearing through blinds can almost obscure our view of a character speaking. This feels apt for this film in which truth is obscured and, like Satoko, we are unsure of what to believe.

Satoko isn’t given much character background; her family isn’t referenced and she has no close female friends. Her husband is her world, although she still jokes around with a childhood buddy (Masahiro Higashide of xxxHOLIC) who has moved up the ranks of the military police. The deep connection she feels to her husband drives her actions in Wife of a Spy, while Yusuku’s motives are far less transparent.

For a thriller, night-time scenes are sparse in Kurosawa’s film, which makes them more discomfiting for the viewer. This lends to the tense nature of the last half. The warm luxury of the couple’s home contrasts with the cold, austere setting of the military police headquarters.

The viewer is given other hints that things are not quite what they seem. Satoko’s hair, styled with a barrette, brings to mind Teresa Wright’s hairstyle in Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt. And the music that accompanies Yusaku’s homemade film is based on a tune from the American musical Show Boat, “Make Believe.”

Does an ethical justification for defiance balance out the betrayal of a loved one? Wife of a Spy leaves the viewer pondering. There are no easy answers here.

Special features on the Kino Lorber BluRay include:

  • A theatrical trailer
  • An almost hour-long behind-the-scenes short with glimpses into Kurosawa’s exacting shooting style and other moments during the shooting of Wife of a Spy. Includes comments from the performers and crew about their work on the film.
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