The Japanese Wife: Nice, but niché
Based on a short story, Aparna Sen’s “The Japanese Wife” is an evocative but slightly stretched tale of an unusual marriage between two seemingly everyday people.
The key words here are “short story” and “stretched”. While Sen does manage to draw an evocative picture of main characters Snehomoy (Rahul Bose) and Miyagi (Chigusa Takaku) the narrative feels a little drawn out at times and it does feel like a short story which has been stretched into a two-hour film.
Snehomoy, a primary school teacher in a remote village in the Sunderbans forest of eastern India agrees to marry his Japanese pen-friend — over letters and carries on a seventeen-year long marriage with her, without ever seeing her once.
He is too poor to make the trip to Japan and she has a sick mother and then her own illness stops her from making the trip.
Instead they make do with writing long, chatty letters to each other about even the most mundane details of their lives, much to the consternation of Snehomoy’s aunt who he lives with. Despite repeated pleas that he marry Sandhya (Raima Sen) the widowed daughter of a friend, he steadfastly refuses, happy with his “long-distance marriage”.
Most of the dialogue in this film is either in Bengali or heavily Bengali/Japanese accented English, so it does get tedious to read the subtitles that appear suddenly.
Sen has a great deal of affection for her characters, but the same cannot be said of the leading man. Bose tries hard, but doesn’t really manage to draw out the loneliness in Snehomoy’s character, instead coming off as indifferent.
Raima Sen is good as Sandhya, and it is a pleasure to see Moushmi Chatterjee on screen as the “maashi”.
This is a movie that will require a lot of patience and knowledge of Bengali. Go for it if you have both.