Japanese Wife – Kurosawa’s Style Marries Ray’s

Aparna Sen’s film The Japanese Wife is a text book case of what happens when film making styles of Kurosawa are married into the Satyajit Ray style. The Japanese Wife provides for an occasion to marry these two styles as the film narrative has that a Bengali school teacher marry a Japanese girl only through an exchange of letters. The crux of the story is that they never meet and yet carry out every bit of married life only through written and remote communication. Such a life as this helps the man live in a world which is neither contained nor constrained by his immediate reality and its demands. It frees his spirit into a realm of “pure marriage” that has devotion, dedication, intimacy, longing and loving and on one occasion also infidelity. The scope of transcendence and yet longing to find a “home” creates a tension in the film which gives the director ample scope to put to use the styles of the masters.
This distance marriage does not have the possibility of a physical consummation of the relationship but that hardly ever comes in the way. Pure marriage is not about physicality, the tenderness of love, nights spent in anxious concerns over each other’s well-being and the overarching feeling of being loved that keeps you covered all the time constitutes, according to the director, the real sense of marital bliss. The camera touches and goes all the time, a rhythm that is made possible through the repetitive routine life of the middle school mentor of the village where nothing really ever happens, except severe violence in the form of raging storms and ravaging floods. The atmosphere of perfect bliss which has the minimum tendency to change creates a chance for the director to use the styles of the two masters, namely Kurosawa and Ray whose essential artistic labour was to maintain a peaceful equilibrium that had the minimum punctures as the haiku of Japan as in case of Kurosawa, or the light sway of boats tied in the shade of peepal trees on the banks of wide rivers of Bengal, as for Ray. The only thing that sometimes stretches this peace is longing of the letter writers for each other. The lavender blossoms against a light sky of Japan and the dried stubs of paddy in the aftermath of the harvest, or the vastness of the Matla that looks like the end of the world provide the necessary montage, perfect occasion to blend the masters and proceed towards invoking the third, Ritwik Ghatak in his films about those whose lands and homes are in a never never land of Partitioned Bengal.
The location of the protagonist in a village of Bengal lends opportunity for the director to explore the light and shades, the pace and rhythms, the concerns and the emotions of what is a quintessential Bengali life and hence use the styles of Ray. The atmosphere of Japan, its ethos, the stoicism of its people and the gentleness and yet expansiveness of its universality creates an opportunity for the director to explore the style of Kurosawa in filming the expanses of Matla river, its swell in the monsoons and the boat rides across the waters as the main means of transport.
The man from Bengal never goes to Japan because he cannot afford to do so; the woman from Japan never visits Bengal probably because she is not allowed to do so. But they are so contained in each other that never once in the film one gets to see the man as anything but married. The Japanese wife is present is her absence, probably more present because she is absence. In a sharp contrast to her is the young widowed Bengali who comes to live in with her infant son in the man’s home. She is the temptation of that physical urge that the absent wife cannot fulfill and yet it is she and not the Japanese wife who has to prove her presence all the time in the frames.
The spirit of the marriage is consummated when a large box from Japan arrives full of kites. These kites are her fathers’ who is no more and her legacy which she passes on to the man in celebration of their 15 years of marriage. She says that since he learnt flying kites at the age of 15, were they to have a child he would also have been 15, just old enough to fly kites. To this unborn child, she sends the large box. The child of the young widow inherits the kites and on the kite flying day, kites of exotic shapes, colours and sizes cover the sky as Japan’s love for Bengal. In many ways, this is the climax of the film and also its only spectacle. The reach of the kites high into the limitless sky is expansive and euphoric. The envy and jealousy of the competitors who have the run of mill kites puncture this sublimity and the competition ends when the Nagasaki kite is severed from its tether and sent floating away into oblivion, foreboding the death of dreams in the cruel reality when spiritual unions are loaded with divisive politics, again a Ghatak component into the camera lucida.
For Aparna Sen, the style is the hero and the camera is the story. For the viewers, it is an experience in pure aesthetics, which like the Kantian pure reason, is a world in itself, not necessarily in resonance with reality. As for the images, they are there for themselves, self-referential and self-absorbed.

About secondsaturn

Independent Scholar. Polymath.
This entry was posted in Film Reviews. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s