The Japanese Wife Hindi Movie Review

Feature Film
The Japanese Wife fails to fully engage our emotions.
Apr 9, 2010 By Jahan Bakshi

Aparna Sen's The Japanese Wife has an audaciously far-fetched premise. Two individuals, separated by countries, cultures and language embark on a relationship through letters, even get 'married' and continue to love and remain faithful to each other through a span of nearly two decades- never once even seeing each other. Even though I haven't read Kunal Basu's short story (of the same name) that the film is based on, it is clear that it was always going to be a daunting task; making a film of this frail, wispy, naively romantic story.

Aparna Sen fleshes the story out for celluloid with almost maternal love and care, crafting each frame meticulously (Anoy Goswami's cinematography is fluid and striking) and treating her characters with generous empathy and humanism. Still, The Japanese Wife fails to fully engage our emotions. To translate such a story into a compelling, poignant film requires tremendous skill and guile, and unfortunately the film, despite some beautifully created moments and a wonderful sense of atmosphere doesn't quite hold together, undone by its own oddly endearing artlessness.

Your heart goes out to the pure innocence of Snehamoy (Rahul Bose) and Miyage (Chigusa Takaku) as they share the smallest joys and sorrows with each other through letters, but there's only so much of labored accents and sometimes overwritten voiceovers that you can take, and the film tends to get cloying and repetitive, with scenes that are pleasant to watch but don't add much to the whole. The result is a film that remains more of a pretty conceit than a genuinely moving experience.

The fact that Rahul Bose has rather limited acting chops doesn't exactly help- and one questions Aparna Sen's risky decision to cast the urbane, yuppie actor. Bose looks appropriately mousy and vulnerable, and as his character's name means- 'full of affection', but his performance remains on the fringes of caricature with the obviously put-on accent and labored, affected acting. Snehamoy remains a likeable prototype more than a believable character, and it clearly needed an actor of far more depth to carry this film on his shoulders.

While Raima Sen and Chigusa Takaku can't rise much beyond the deliberately faint outline the screenplay gives them, it is ultimately Moushumi Chatterjee as Snehamoy's aunt who comes up with the film's most outstanding performance; shorn of any pretence or artifice, she plays her part with ease and abandon, and finds her way into your heart.

It is very difficult to translate the little subtexts and nuances of a short story into a full-length feature, and it takes bold vision and deft writing to bring out such latent emotion and drama effectively on the big screen. Aparna Sen, for all her good intentions doesn't quite manage what Vishal Bhardwaj did with The Blue Umbrella. Still, having said that, there are many little joys and preciously carved out moments (and more importantly, an old-fashioned spirit and charm that is nearly extinct today) to be savored in The Japanese Wife. If you have the patience to sit through its sometimes clunky narration and lack of cohesion, I'd recommend that you make time for Aparna Sen's film. It is not often that you see films that you can truly call a labour of love, and even if that is its undoing- there is no question about the fact that this one is straight from the heart.

Jahan Bakshi