4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Wife of a Spy: Kiyoshi Kurosawa unravels a tired Hitchcockian yarn

We’ll have to make do

Wife of a Spy: light springs eternal for Issey Takahashi and Yû Aoi in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s otherwise workaday thriller.
Wife of a Spy: light springs eternal for Issey Takahashi and Yû Aoi in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s otherwise workaday thriller.

The latest from Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure, Tokyo Sonata) is being pitched as an “old-school Hitchcockian thriller.” The Master has been dead over 40 years. All this slavish delineating has long since passed the point of overwrought. One longs to see the critical blurb, “A suspense thriller that owes nothing to Hitchcock” splashed across an IMDB banner ad. Until the time when the next great novelty comes along, we’ll have to make do with Wife of a Spy.

We open in Kobe, Japan, with the country on the verge of war. The attention to detail paid to the cut and texture of costume designer Haruki Koketsu’s staggeringly-stitched costumes is nothing short of arresting. It’s as if one could run a hand across the screen and feel the grain of the garments. It’s only fitting, then, that our first stop is a raw silk inspection center headed by Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi). The police are in the process of carting away Mr. Drummond, Yusaku’s closest non-Asian business associate, a British spy known for leaking military secrets. The silk merchant’s love of country stops just short of posting bail for double-dealing Drummond. But he does lament the arrest of the Brit, particularly in light of the Japanese government’s making nice with Italians and Germans.

Taiji (Higashide Masahiro), a top military official and childhood friend of both Yasaku and his wife Satoko (Aoi Yû), is assigned the case. Yasaku is at odds with Taiji, believing him to be a rival for Satoko’s affections. Taiji advises Yasaku to choose his friends wisely, particularly when they’re foreigners. His sense of nationalism is such that he browbeats Satoko for dressing like a Westerner and drinking American whiskey. (When she later shows up to Taiji’s office to ask a favor, she comes draped in a kimono.) Were it a film noir, the two historied chums would reunite in darkness, physically separated by shafts of shadows. But Yusaku’s universe is one of sunny orderliness, and it’s the glary gauze of light filtering through the Venetian blinds that keeps them apart. Kurosawa’s choice of a “film blanc” approach is called into play with enough regularity to maintain a high level of graphic interest. Taiji departs on as positive a note as possible for a fascist such as he; he’d prefer not to shut down an old friend, but business is business. He leaves, apologizing for his rudeness.

It’s to Kurosawa’s credit that the customary romantic triangle he appears to be moving us toward is meant to put us off our game. After all, this is the guy who gave us the aptly titled Creepy. He’s not going to deal from the top of the deck. Or is he? You want me to issue a spoiler alert? A series of flashbacks take us through the couple’s past, starting with Yusaku’s springtime of life as a filmmaker. The 16mm spool of film that’s foreshadowed in reel one returns to have a major impact on the plot. The director’s eye for recreating a silent film is most convincing, but as part of an original screenplay, it sputters along like the subplot of a lengthy novel condensed for the screen. The same holds true for a murder in which Yasuka may have played a part. At other times, Kurosawa forces his stylistic hand down our throats: as when he places a box of feathers on a bedroom shelf for a character to toss heedlessly into the air. Stylistic moves like this demand motivation.

A military battalion marches into the train station just in time to see Yusaku off. With one assured move of the camera, and with the soldiers as his backdrop, Kurosawa draws together the spy, his bride, and their nephew. The director knows how to tangibly bring his characters together; it’s the spark of excitement between leads that he can’t quite ignite.

Kurosawa’s ornery depraved origins won’t be overlooked. The declawing of a bad guy is tastefully depicted. Even the film’s weightiest dramatic reveal — Yusaku witnessing the mass burning of plague victims’ corpses — is delivered in a lengthy monologue, the kind that clears things up for character and viewer alike.

Throughout the film, Yusaka questions Satoko’s laying claim to the titular appellation. Yusaku’s allegiance is not to his country, but to universal justice. Kurosawa’s overall commitment to innovation seems parched. It’s a lovely enough ride, particularly Kurosawa’s emboldened use of exterior light, but when it comes right down to storytelling, not much is illuminated. Now playing at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas. ★★

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Attack of the Hollywood Cliches — Recycling corn is as essential to the narrative retardation of cinema as the regurgitation of cud is to a cow’s gastrointestinal tract. Hollywood’s overall abiding commitment to a lack of originality, and the consumers who lap it up like dog water, is a subject that demands far more time than this hour-long Netflix Comedy Special can spare, but it’s a start. With ten writers and/or directors to its credit, the show commences on a fluky small screen trope of its own. Remember when SNL’s Weekend Update opened with, “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not”? The host of this special introduces himself with, “Unlike you, I’m Rob Lowe.” A litany of literal redundancy flashes before us: meet cutes, maverick cops, fistfights atop moving train cars, angry desk sweeps, giving chase in high heels, baguette heels poking out of shopping bags, and jump scares are all given their due. (The last was the brainchild of R.K.O. horror/noir past master Val Lewton, whose 1942 version of Cat People sent audiences leaping with what came to be known as “the Lewton bus.”) Noticeably absent are the hitman who comes out of retirement for one last kill, the lying flashback, and the certain death of anyone who beds or befriends Charles Bronson in a Death Wish picture. Critic Kim Newman observes that during the silent era, audiences either yawned when confronted with lengthy intertitles or laughed at the flowery prose contained within. Without dialogue to voice their emotions, characters turned to physical expression as a means of communication — hence the birth of fist-fights as a basic component of the filmgoing experience. This gives way to talk of what I like to call the deli-counter slugfest. Rather than dogpile the good guy en masse, each attacker takes their turn, as though waiting for the clerk to call their number. The one cliche they fail to marvel at is the use of special effects as an opiate to cast a soporific haze over sophomoric minds quick to confuse CG codswallop with storytelling. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Candyman — When it ended, Candyman was one of the few horror films that found me looking over my shoulder on the walk to my car. What is the first thing that separates this from Bernard Rose’s original, a film that posited as its monster a housing project located on the brink of Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast area? For one thing, there’s Sammy! One mention of the nauseatingly saccharine chart-topper in a 1992 horror film would have set audiences giggling. Here it acts as a faint reminder of the past. It’s not the only difference. Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s latest isn’t so much a remake, as most sequels are, but a continuation, an update. It’s the same housing project — the CG recreation of Chicago’s Cabrini Green is so precise that it looks like documentary footage — with the horror emerging from a different hole in the tenement wall. This time, it takes less than five minutes for the titular boogeyman to appear, and the handling of white guilt is much more pointed. Brianna (Teyonah Parris) is quick to state the obvious: “White people built the ghetto and erased it when they realized they built the ghetto.” Giving equal time to ignorance, Brianna lives on the very gentrified spot where the infamous housing project once stood. There is even one noticeable improvement: never repeat the title five times, particularly when standing alone in a mirrored elevator. One drawback of contemporary thinking is the establishment of a seemingly upstanding character who goes south if for no other reason than two bad guys are better than one. Other than that, there’s enough here to give your nerves a good rattling. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

Cry Macho — Long before drones became a cinematographer’s best friend, Clint Eastwood chose dispassionately distanced aerial shots to open the show. It’s how we met Mike Milo (Eastwood), another footsoldier in Eastwood’s army, an outsider with a dark past he’d rather forget as he charts the rocky road to redemption that lies ahead.  It’s 1979, and Mike accepts a job from Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), the same man who one year earlier relieved him of his duties with the rodeo. Mike broke his back when a horse fell on him, and the painkillers and booze that assisted in his recovery have since blunted his senses. Polk calls in a favor: he needs Mike to remove his 13-year-old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from the clutches of his unstable wife and bring him across the border. Mike obliges out of what he calls “old-fashioned loyalty.” At 91, Clint still fancies himself quite the ladies’ man. The border agent flirts with the three attractive girls in the convertible before Mike. When asked what his business is in Mexico, Mike replies, “I’m with them.” He resists the advances of Rafo’s mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), and we close with Mike in the arms of Marta (Natalia Traven), a sultry cantina proprietor instantly smitten by his charm. Leta, even seems less concerned with her son being kidnapped by a stranger than she is with Mike rebuking her sexual advances. She does point Mike in the direction of Rafo’s favorite hangout, a cockfighting ring. Following a threat to snap the neck of Macho, the boy’s prize cock, Rafo appears from out of the shadows. Mike produces a picture of the boy when he was five, and fills his head with talk of Polk owning a hundred horses and a rodeo to go with them. Cry Macho moves at a leisurely pace, something that can’t be said of Eastwood. Critics were taken aback by his ability to ride a horse and throw a punch. Eastwood pokes fun at the thought of aging gracefully. Mike earned a reputation as an animal whisperer and when the local Federale brings his pooch to be examined, Mike confides in Rafo, “I don’t know how to cure old.” He also whispers lies intended to convince Rafo that his rightful place is with his father. We begin to see through the regular reassurance that Polk can’t wait to be reunited with his boy. And Rafo’s still too young to realize that Mike didn’t drag his wizened carcass across the border without expectation of recompense. Eastwood’s reflections find the concept of macho vastly overrated. In the end, it’s Macho who saves the day (in more ways than one). 2021. — S.M. ★★★

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

Guadalupe Valley draws the line at an amphitheater

"They will leave us a ghost town”
Next Article

The dine-in ghost kitchens of Barrio Food Hub

Dozens of virtual brands operate in a single building, and it has a parklet
Wife of a Spy: light springs eternal for Issey Takahashi and Yû Aoi in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s otherwise workaday thriller.
Wife of a Spy: light springs eternal for Issey Takahashi and Yû Aoi in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s otherwise workaday thriller.

The latest from Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Pulse, Cure, Tokyo Sonata) is being pitched as an “old-school Hitchcockian thriller.” The Master has been dead over 40 years. All this slavish delineating has long since passed the point of overwrought. One longs to see the critical blurb, “A suspense thriller that owes nothing to Hitchcock” splashed across an IMDB banner ad. Until the time when the next great novelty comes along, we’ll have to make do with Wife of a Spy.

We open in Kobe, Japan, with the country on the verge of war. The attention to detail paid to the cut and texture of costume designer Haruki Koketsu’s staggeringly-stitched costumes is nothing short of arresting. It’s as if one could run a hand across the screen and feel the grain of the garments. It’s only fitting, then, that our first stop is a raw silk inspection center headed by Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi). The police are in the process of carting away Mr. Drummond, Yusaku’s closest non-Asian business associate, a British spy known for leaking military secrets. The silk merchant’s love of country stops just short of posting bail for double-dealing Drummond. But he does lament the arrest of the Brit, particularly in light of the Japanese government’s making nice with Italians and Germans.

Taiji (Higashide Masahiro), a top military official and childhood friend of both Yasaku and his wife Satoko (Aoi Yû), is assigned the case. Yasaku is at odds with Taiji, believing him to be a rival for Satoko’s affections. Taiji advises Yasaku to choose his friends wisely, particularly when they’re foreigners. His sense of nationalism is such that he browbeats Satoko for dressing like a Westerner and drinking American whiskey. (When she later shows up to Taiji’s office to ask a favor, she comes draped in a kimono.) Were it a film noir, the two historied chums would reunite in darkness, physically separated by shafts of shadows. But Yusaku’s universe is one of sunny orderliness, and it’s the glary gauze of light filtering through the Venetian blinds that keeps them apart. Kurosawa’s choice of a “film blanc” approach is called into play with enough regularity to maintain a high level of graphic interest. Taiji departs on as positive a note as possible for a fascist such as he; he’d prefer not to shut down an old friend, but business is business. He leaves, apologizing for his rudeness.

It’s to Kurosawa’s credit that the customary romantic triangle he appears to be moving us toward is meant to put us off our game. After all, this is the guy who gave us the aptly titled Creepy. He’s not going to deal from the top of the deck. Or is he? You want me to issue a spoiler alert? A series of flashbacks take us through the couple’s past, starting with Yusaku’s springtime of life as a filmmaker. The 16mm spool of film that’s foreshadowed in reel one returns to have a major impact on the plot. The director’s eye for recreating a silent film is most convincing, but as part of an original screenplay, it sputters along like the subplot of a lengthy novel condensed for the screen. The same holds true for a murder in which Yasuka may have played a part. At other times, Kurosawa forces his stylistic hand down our throats: as when he places a box of feathers on a bedroom shelf for a character to toss heedlessly into the air. Stylistic moves like this demand motivation.

A military battalion marches into the train station just in time to see Yusaku off. With one assured move of the camera, and with the soldiers as his backdrop, Kurosawa draws together the spy, his bride, and their nephew. The director knows how to tangibly bring his characters together; it’s the spark of excitement between leads that he can’t quite ignite.

Kurosawa’s ornery depraved origins won’t be overlooked. The declawing of a bad guy is tastefully depicted. Even the film’s weightiest dramatic reveal — Yusaku witnessing the mass burning of plague victims’ corpses — is delivered in a lengthy monologue, the kind that clears things up for character and viewer alike.

Throughout the film, Yusaka questions Satoko’s laying claim to the titular appellation. Yusaku’s allegiance is not to his country, but to universal justice. Kurosawa’s overall commitment to innovation seems parched. It’s a lovely enough ride, particularly Kurosawa’s emboldened use of exterior light, but when it comes right down to storytelling, not much is illuminated. Now playing at the Landmark Hillcrest Cinemas. ★★

Video on Demand and New Release Roundup

Attack of the Hollywood Cliches — Recycling corn is as essential to the narrative retardation of cinema as the regurgitation of cud is to a cow’s gastrointestinal tract. Hollywood’s overall abiding commitment to a lack of originality, and the consumers who lap it up like dog water, is a subject that demands far more time than this hour-long Netflix Comedy Special can spare, but it’s a start. With ten writers and/or directors to its credit, the show commences on a fluky small screen trope of its own. Remember when SNL’s Weekend Update opened with, “I’m Chevy Chase and you’re not”? The host of this special introduces himself with, “Unlike you, I’m Rob Lowe.” A litany of literal redundancy flashes before us: meet cutes, maverick cops, fistfights atop moving train cars, angry desk sweeps, giving chase in high heels, baguette heels poking out of shopping bags, and jump scares are all given their due. (The last was the brainchild of R.K.O. horror/noir past master Val Lewton, whose 1942 version of Cat People sent audiences leaping with what came to be known as “the Lewton bus.”) Noticeably absent are the hitman who comes out of retirement for one last kill, the lying flashback, and the certain death of anyone who beds or befriends Charles Bronson in a Death Wish picture. Critic Kim Newman observes that during the silent era, audiences either yawned when confronted with lengthy intertitles or laughed at the flowery prose contained within. Without dialogue to voice their emotions, characters turned to physical expression as a means of communication — hence the birth of fist-fights as a basic component of the filmgoing experience. This gives way to talk of what I like to call the deli-counter slugfest. Rather than dogpile the good guy en masse, each attacker takes their turn, as though waiting for the clerk to call their number. The one cliche they fail to marvel at is the use of special effects as an opiate to cast a soporific haze over sophomoric minds quick to confuse CG codswallop with storytelling. 2021. — S.M. ★★

Candyman — When it ended, Candyman was one of the few horror films that found me looking over my shoulder on the walk to my car. What is the first thing that separates this from Bernard Rose’s original, a film that posited as its monster a housing project located on the brink of Chicago’s affluent Gold Coast area? For one thing, there’s Sammy! One mention of the nauseatingly saccharine chart-topper in a 1992 horror film would have set audiences giggling. Here it acts as a faint reminder of the past. It’s not the only difference. Writer-director Nia DaCosta’s latest isn’t so much a remake, as most sequels are, but a continuation, an update. It’s the same housing project — the CG recreation of Chicago’s Cabrini Green is so precise that it looks like documentary footage — with the horror emerging from a different hole in the tenement wall. This time, it takes less than five minutes for the titular boogeyman to appear, and the handling of white guilt is much more pointed. Brianna (Teyonah Parris) is quick to state the obvious: “White people built the ghetto and erased it when they realized they built the ghetto.” Giving equal time to ignorance, Brianna lives on the very gentrified spot where the infamous housing project once stood. There is even one noticeable improvement: never repeat the title five times, particularly when standing alone in a mirrored elevator. One drawback of contemporary thinking is the establishment of a seemingly upstanding character who goes south if for no other reason than two bad guys are better than one. Other than that, there’s enough here to give your nerves a good rattling. 2021. — S.M. ★★★

Cry Macho — Long before drones became a cinematographer’s best friend, Clint Eastwood chose dispassionately distanced aerial shots to open the show. It’s how we met Mike Milo (Eastwood), another footsoldier in Eastwood’s army, an outsider with a dark past he’d rather forget as he charts the rocky road to redemption that lies ahead.  It’s 1979, and Mike accepts a job from Howard Polk (Dwight Yoakam), the same man who one year earlier relieved him of his duties with the rodeo. Mike broke his back when a horse fell on him, and the painkillers and booze that assisted in his recovery have since blunted his senses. Polk calls in a favor: he needs Mike to remove his 13-year-old son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from the clutches of his unstable wife and bring him across the border. Mike obliges out of what he calls “old-fashioned loyalty.” At 91, Clint still fancies himself quite the ladies’ man. The border agent flirts with the three attractive girls in the convertible before Mike. When asked what his business is in Mexico, Mike replies, “I’m with them.” He resists the advances of Rafo’s mother Leta (Fernanda Urrejola), and we close with Mike in the arms of Marta (Natalia Traven), a sultry cantina proprietor instantly smitten by his charm. Leta, even seems less concerned with her son being kidnapped by a stranger than she is with Mike rebuking her sexual advances. She does point Mike in the direction of Rafo’s favorite hangout, a cockfighting ring. Following a threat to snap the neck of Macho, the boy’s prize cock, Rafo appears from out of the shadows. Mike produces a picture of the boy when he was five, and fills his head with talk of Polk owning a hundred horses and a rodeo to go with them. Cry Macho moves at a leisurely pace, something that can’t be said of Eastwood. Critics were taken aback by his ability to ride a horse and throw a punch. Eastwood pokes fun at the thought of aging gracefully. Mike earned a reputation as an animal whisperer and when the local Federale brings his pooch to be examined, Mike confides in Rafo, “I don’t know how to cure old.” He also whispers lies intended to convince Rafo that his rightful place is with his father. We begin to see through the regular reassurance that Polk can’t wait to be reunited with his boy. And Rafo’s still too young to realize that Mike didn’t drag his wizened carcass across the border without expectation of recompense. Eastwood’s reflections find the concept of macho vastly overrated. In the end, it’s Macho who saves the day (in more ways than one). 2021. — S.M. ★★★

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

The dine-in ghost kitchens of Barrio Food Hub

Dozens of virtual brands operate in a single building, and it has a parklet
Next Article

The revelation and revival of 3-D

What I wouldn’t give for the deep-focus enhancement of Bambi’s Multiplane Camera pyrotechnics
Comments
0

Be the first to leave a comment.

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Drinks All Around — Bartenders' drink recipes Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Outdoors — Weekly changes in flora and fauna Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Street Style — San Diego streets have style Surf Diego — Real stories from those braving the waves Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close