Review: Kiyoshi Kurosawa Leans Into Hitchcockian Suspense with 'Wife Of A Spy'

by Kevin Taft

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Friday September 17, 2021

'Wife of a Spy'
'Wife of a Spy'  (Source:Kino Lorber)

Japanese horror director Kiyoshi Kurosawa ("Cure," "Pulse") leans into Hitchcockian suspense with his latest dramatic thriller, "Wife of a Spy."

It is the early 1940s, and Yusaku Fukuhra (Issey Tajahashi) is a successful textile merchant who likes making short films in his free time with his wife Satoko (Yu Aoi) and friend Fumio (Ryota Bando). After an unexpectedly long business trip, Yusaku and Fumio return home with a mysterious woman in tow. Thinking that her husband might be having an affair, Satoko — a normally meek and child-like woman — confronts her husband regarding the truth about his trip.

Yusaku claims that he will never lie to his wife, and explains that he saw some horrible things happening in the factories he visited. He rescued the woman in question, but she winds up dead with Yuisaka and Fumio potential suspects. A childhood friend of the couple is now part of the investigation, and begins to suspect his old friends of crimes against the Japanese government.

While Yusaku promises to tell the truth, Satoko doesn't totally trust him and begins to investigate on her own, revealing some dangerous truths that will not only affect her husband's fate, but hers as well.

Kurosawa unveils a much more restrained and straightforward film with "Wife of a Spy." While his horror films tend to be complicated and stylized, "Spy" has a simple elegance to it that lends itself to the time period. While the distinct politics of Japan might be not be as familiar in detail to American audiences, Kurosawa simplifies it so that it comes down to a question of ethics.

Not only that, the director and his two co-writers keep their audience guessing as to the motives of Yusaka and Fumio, alternating between gaining our trust and suspecting their every move. It's a fascinating dance told through his audience surrogate Satoko.

Yu Aoi is a standout here. When the film begins, she is a mousey woman always looking to please her husband by her actions and demeanor. By film's end, she has morphed into a different creature — hardened by the events she has lived through, and all the more grown-up because of them. It's captivating to watch.

While the film goes on a bit longer than it needs to (there's a stunning shot that sends shivers down your spine that could have easily led to the final fade to black), this is a return to form to the prolific filmmaker, and another exemplary performance by Aoi who is already a force to be reckoned with in Japan.

"Wife of a Spy" opens September 17th in NYC and September 24th in Los Angeles.

Kevin Taft is a screenwriter/critic living in Los Angeles with an unnatural attachment to 'Star Wars' and the desire to be adopted by Steven Spielberg.