”Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Otani (Asano Tadanobu) does not know what love is, but his wife Sachi (Matsu Takako) certainly does. He is a talented writer, but an uncaring husband. After he steals a large amount of money from the owners of a Japanese pub, Sachi decides to work there to repay his debts. While she gains popularity and rediscovers happiness, Otani continues further and further down his self-destructing path…
Looking at the synopsis, readers are probably getting the impression that Villon’s Wife will be a most depressing and difficult film to watch. Fortunately, thanks to director Kichitaro Negishi’s skilful storytelling and sensitive approach to the material, the film is more gentle than confrontational. Viewers are taken on a journey with the film’s two leads, and may well reflect upon their own relationships during it.
Sachi is a good woman. She is kind, intelligent and forgiving. When things do not go right, she does not complain but instead works calmly towards a solution. She may have sinned, but everything she has done appears to be for her husband and son. Otani, on the other hand, is an amoral self-centred womaniser who is heavily hooked on alcohol, and it is fair to say his life is an absolute mess. (I realise I am not very fond of this character, and therefore will refrain from using any stronger words to describe him so that this review can retain its G rating.)
The character of Sachi is played by Matsu Takako (K-20: Legend of the Mask – JFF 2009, Confessions – JFF 2010), who delivers a career-defining performance as the long-suffering wife of a husband absolutely undeserving of her love. Takako perfectly portrays the pain and internal conflicts experienced by Sachi, and is totally believable as a young woman caught in a very difficult marital relationship. She has deservedly won a number of Best Actress Awards including at this year’s Japanese Academy Award. Female viewers in particular will be touched by her self-sacrifice but may at the same time be frustrated by the fact that she chooses to stand by a man like Otani.
Asano Tadanobu (The Summit: A Chronicle of Stones – JFF 2009, Last Life in the Universe) plays Otani with quite a subtle performance to portray the tortured soul. While the role is unlikeable, Tadanobu has given a solid performance, which I am sure is good enough for some audience to feel sympathetic towards his character.
Villon’s Wife is literature in a visual form. It is a film about life as much as it is about love. Its success comes from the assured direction, beautiful performances and well-written characters. Especially, I think Takako’s performance is extraordinary, and Sachi is a very special character indeed.
Just a few words about the Japanese Film Festival: Of the five films nominated for Best Picture at this year’s Japanese Academy Award, four will be showcased at the upcoming Japanese Film Festival in Australia, and Villon’s Wife is one of them. There are also heaps of others to choose from in a particularly strong line-up of films at this year’s festival. And to help you decide what to see, we will endeavour to bring you many more reviews of films from JFF 2010 in the coming weeks!