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Thursday, July 26, 2012

SASAME-YUKI / THE MAKIOKA SISTERS (1983)

Beyond exquisite. Kon Ichikawa’s domestic drama follows the four lovely Makioka sisters in quietly compelling fashion. A rare look at a rich Japanese subculture, it’s also the most refined ‘chick-flic’ ever made. Daughters of the wealthy Makioka mercantile family, the eldest two are both married with children, but they spend most of their time worrying about the two youngest sisters: the tradition-bound third girl, a great beauty who refuses one arranged marriage after another; and the kid, a rebellious girl who wants to shed family obligations. The film runs on small details of family pride & vanity, set in stately homes and well-tended parks, always gowned in ravishing kimonos that are much more than mere show. It’s a world where style becomes subject, as if Max Ophuls had turned his attention to Japan in the 1930s. And the men are just as well defined: varying ‘modern’ generation boyfriends for the youngest sister; deeply inappropriate formal suitors for sister number 3's arranged meetings. Jûzô Itami, before he began directing (TAMPOPO/’86), is suitably gruff as the eldest’s hot-tempered husband; and there’s an exceptional perf from Kôji Ishizaka as the other husband, the family’s ever-ready peacemaker who’s a bit in love with all the sisters. Ichikawa remains best known Stateside for harrowing anti-war pics like THE BURMESE HARP/’56 and FIRES ON THE PLAIN/’59, but he had an enormous range, and here he finds & maintains the exact right tone for this delicate melodrama.

DOUBLE-BILL: Sounds unlikely, but Vincente Minnelli’s MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS/’44 is an equally well-observed memory piece about four sisters & their extended family with more than a few similar plot threads, even a crisis-inducing proposed move to a big city. But of course played out in TechniColored studio recreations, with song cues & Judy Garland in for Ichikawa’s cherry-blossoms.

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