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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Japanese Wife - A Visual Masterpiece on the Big Screen

Like I read an article by one of the reviewers, how you like the experience of an Aparna Sen movie is entirely up to you. You will either love it or hate it, but there is no ignoring it.
I personally hated the book 'Japanese Wife' by Kunal Basu but am now forever in love with its visual and big-screen cousin.
How many of you have read poetry, or looked at a painting, or read a visually-delightful book, and been delighted? If any of these forms of art have ever impressed you, the movie, based on the book of the same name by Kunal Basu and brought alive on screen by the legendary and unparalleled Aparna Sen is just for you.
If you have ever seen an Aparna Sen masterpiece before, well, set your expectations high. Because, as always, she will surpass even the highest expectations you may have set.
The movie is based on two landscapes, one, the mysterious and enchanting world of the Sunderbans in the West Bengal, and the other, in the land of ‘sayonaras’, Japan.
If by now you are done with bikini babes and six-eight-pack middle-aged heroes taking their shirts off, aunties trying to play young, babes going down to size zero and almost vanishing in thin air, non-existent writers in the typical ‘desi’ movies, if by any chance you are interested in sampling a visually satiating fare, a detailed eye for cinematography and a camera that captures each and every miniscule portion of the frame, then you should like this one.

Cast: Rahul Bose (Snehomoy Chatterjee)
Chigusa Takaku (Miyegi)
Moushumi Chatterjee (Snehomoy's aunt)
Raima Sen (Sandhya)
Special (1second) appearance: Kunal Basu
Director: Aparna Sen
Cinematographer: Anay Goswami
Genre: Drama

The story is based between the two central protagonists – Snehomoy (a maths teacher in a village school in Sunderban) and Miyegi (a poor Japanese girl who tends to her ailing mother and runs a shop from inside her home). The two become pen-friends and eventually end up marrying each other, through the exchange of letters. For the 17 years they remain married and loyal to each other, they never meet, for reasons that are unravelled as the movie progresses, and as destiny has in store, shall never meet.
Snehomoy lives with his old aunt, played by the adorable Moushumi Chatterjee. Her Baangla is thick with the local dialect accent and her portrayal of an old village woman is one of the best performances she has done till date. The detailing of a typical Aparna Sen movie can be seen in the way the camera familiarizes us with Snehomoy’s house and room. Starting from the mosquito-net to the books and the table covers, we are given a glimpse of it all, thus revealing little-by-little of the character and what his life is like.
Miyegi lives in a typical Japanese house, complete with a wooden floor and a slanting roof. The director remains rooted in the fact that though not a single shot of Japan is shown apart from Miyegi’s home and the courtyard and little plants outside, the viewer can easily feel transported into a different world. Especially at those scenes when Miyegi is in her brother’s house and stands in the kitchen near the sink, and we see a slice of the life in Japan from the window that looks out into world outside.
Snehomoy and Miyegi are both lonely, shy and introvert and that is what draws them to each other in the first place. Both of them are incapable of making friends in their regular world, and the ‘anonymity’ of a pen-friendship helps them open up to each other, which eventually leads to their decision of getting married.
As the minutes pass we see more of Japan in Snehomoy’s room. There is a Japanese fan, Japanese dolls, table covers, hand-fans, decorative items, kites and more. When his aunt’s friend and her daughter (Raima Sen) visit their house, Moushumi Chatterjee voices her desire to get the two married, but Snehomoy is already committed to Miyegi. The marriage takes place by Snehomoy sending her a pair of traditional Bengali shaakha-pola and a vial of shindoor, along with a Bengal taant saree. When Miyegi is ill he even goes to the local doctor with all her reports and sends her herbal and ayurvedic medicines, which she dutifully takes. Both the protagonists are not comfortable in English and have to labour over the long-distance calls as they try and convey their love and feelings to each other. The scene where Snehomoy is shown physically satisfying himself in a moored boat is shot aesthetically.
Raima Sen appears again, as a young widow with a young son, who is given shelter in the house by Snehomoy’s aunt. Through her limited looks from under her veil, she slowly and gradually develops a liking for this man, a liking that we can all recognize as love. Snehomoy’s bond with her young eight-year-old son portrays warmth and genuine affection.
The last scene sees the two women in Snehomoy’s life, Miyegi and Sandhya, turn to each other for love and solace in their moment of loss.

Rahul Sen’s best. His typical baangla accent along with the adulterated English, baang-lish is superb.
Chigusa is extremely sweet and soft-spoken throughout the movie and the viewer can actually feel a kind of tenderness towards this girl-woman.
Moushumi Chatterjee is at her best.
Raima Sen acts mostly with her eyes and does a great job, wonder why she even bothers to do regular Bollywood movies.
The boy who plays Raima’s son deserves a special mention here. Though I am not aware of his name, he has a done a great job at this age and it is hard to even imagine that he is acting here, it looks so natural.

Caution: If you want the regular fast-paced movie, with a young feel and lots of colour and glamour and song-and-dance sequences, this is not the movie for you. It is to be watched with patience and at leisure.