Seisaku's Wife

Yasuzo Masumura's morbid 1965 period drama about a village outcast maddened and then redeemed by her need to love. Okane (Ayako Wakao, Masumura's favorite muse) is ostracized for having been mistress to a wealthy older man; she leads a lonely existence until the village hero, a returning soldier (Takahiro Tamura), catches sight of her. Adapted from a potboiler, the screenplay captures the insular, grinding life of a rural hamlet at the time of the Russo-Japanese war, but Masumura is more interested in brazen individualism expressed through sexual desire and unrequited love as an escape from stifling loneliness. The Sternberg-Dietrich films seem to have inspired the intricate play of light and shadow (shot in 'Scope by ace cameraman Tomohiro Akino), the erotic charge conveyed by the lovers' glistening bodies, and the pools of darkness that surround the heroine. Surely another influence is director Kenji Mizoguchi, whose belief in the healing power of love informs the film's finale. An honest and harrowing masterpiece from a leftist auteur who understood the roots of modern Japan's shortcomings.

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