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The Makioka Sisters – The Criterion Collection #567 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 6, 2011 by  



“The Makioka Sisters” is a beautiful, straight-forward film directed by Kon Ichikawa based on one of Japan’s most beloved novel by Junichiro Tanizaki.  A wonderful study of a once wealthy family now in decline and a family of sisters who put marriage as a priority in order to ensure their economic status for their family’s future.  But will the two younger sisters ever get married?

Image courtesy of © 1983 Toho Co., Ltd. 2011 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Makioka Sisters – The Criterion Collection #567 (Sasame-yuki)

YEAR OF FILM: 1983

DURATION: 140 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:85:1 Aspect Ratio), Color, Monaural, Japanese with English Subtitles

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: June 14, 2011

Novel by Junichiro Tanizaki

Directed by Kon Ichikawa

Written by Shinya Hidaka, Kon Ichikawa

Executive Producer: Kon Ichikawa, Tomoyuki Tanaka

Original Music by Shinnosuke Okawa, Toshiyuki Watanabe

Cinematography by Kiyoshi Hasegawa

Edited by Chizuko Osada

Production Design by Shinobu Muraki

Starring:

Keiko Kishi as Tsuruko Makioka

Yoshiko Sakuma as Sachiko Makioka

Sayuri Yoshinaga as Yukiko Makioka

Yuko Kotegawa as Taeko Makioka

Juzo Itami as Tatsuo, Tsuruko’s Husband

Koji Ishizaka as Teinosuke, Sachiko’s Husband

Toshiyuki Hosokawa as Hashidera

Ittoku Kishibe as Itakura

Takenori Emoto as Higashiya

Jun Hamamura as Otokichi

Jun Hashizume as Soldier

Akiji Kobayashi as Seitaro Jinba

Kazuya Kosaka as Nomura

This lyrical adaptation of the beloved novel by Junichiro Tanizaki was a late-career triumph for director Kon Ichikawa. Structured around the changing of the seasons, The Makioka Sisters (Sasame-yuki) follows the lives of four siblings who have taken on their family’s kimono manufacturing business, in the years leading up to the Pacific War. The two oldest have been married for some time, but according to tradition, the rebellious youngest sister cannot wed until the third, conservative and terribly shy, finds a husband. This graceful study of a family at a turning point in history is a poignant evocation of changing times and fading customs, shot in rich, vivid colors.

Known as the “The greatest cosmopolitan novel since the Meiji restoration”,  Junichiro Tanizaki’s serial novel “The Makioka Sisters” (Sasameyuki) is an important novel for Japanese culture.  Many of the events that took place during the time of 1936-1941 in Japan is featured in the book, from the Kobe Flood of 1938, the Sino-Japanese War, the escalating tension of Europe and the building up to what would be World War II.

But at the time, the book was seen as daring, especially for Japanese censors who wanted the novel’s publication to be halted as they felt the novel was depicting soft, effeminate and individualistic lives of women during wartime Japan.

Fast forward to over 40-years later and Kon Ichikawa (“47 Romin”, “Tokyo Olympiad”, “Alone on the Pacific”) would take on a film adaptation of the popular serial novel.  The film can be seen as a compressed version focusing on a primary time period between the sisters believing in marriage as an economic necessity.  Ichikawa chooses not to focus on the other dramatic events from the book, especially the great Kobe flood of 1938.

“The Makioka Sisters” is a film that follows a wealthy family based in Osaka, but the family’s wealth has started to decline and thus, the family starts to take more interest in the lives of the Makioka daughters and the marriage proposals they receive.

The film consists of eldest sister Tsuruko (played by Keiko Ishii) who is the oldest sister and the narration follows her letters to her sisters.  Tsuruko lives in the “main” Makioka house in Osaka and is quite distant from her sisters who live in Ashiya.  Tsuruko is married to Tatsuo (played by Juzo Itami) who has taken the Makioka name.   Tatsuo is the master of the Makioka main branch and he is also a bank employee.  The other Makioka sisters find him quite boring.

At the branch house in Ashiya is where the second oldest sister Sachiko (played by Yoshiko Sakuma) and her husband Teinosuke (played by Koji Ishizaka) lives.  Similar to Tatsuo, Teinosuke also has taken the Makioka name. Teinosuke is an accountant but he is a man who embraces the arts, loves poetry and letter writing but also, a sense that he wouldn’t mind being with Sachiko’s younger sister Yukiko.

Living with them are the two younger Makioka sisters, Yukiko (played by Sayuri Yoshinaga) and Taeko (played by Yuko Kotegawa) who are both unmarried.

For Yukiko, her being unmarried is an inconvenience as she is going in her 30s and she is very shy.  What is interesting is that all marriage proposals that were asked of her during the family’s prominence were turned down and now that the family in not so great financial shape, they noticed that hardly anyone is proposing.

As for Taeko, she can’t get married to Okubata until Yuko is married and she is also very different compared to her sisters in the fact that she embraces Western culture, smokes cigarettes and is literally the black sheep of the family that walks to the beat of her own drum, and she does this because Yuko must get married first, before she can and because of this, it frustrates Taeko.

“The Makioka Sisters” is a film that showcases a wealthy Japanese family that has lost prestige but also features the importance of Japanese marriage and a glimpse of traditional Japanese women and the differing styles and mannerisms of each sister and their different lives.  But the film also shows us the decline of a Japanese family, the growing poverty and poor economy that plagued Japan at that time.  Also, seeing a change within culture.

VIDEO:

“The Makioka Sisters” is presented in its original aspect ration of 1:85:1.  The picture quality is absolutely beautiful.  I’ve watched this film only on VHS but it’s great to see how good this film looks for a 1983 film.  Although not the most vibrant film from the early ’80s on Blu-ray, the film is quite colorful and there is also a pretty good layer of grain.   Skin tones are natural, clothing show a good amount of detail and black levels are good.

According to the Criterion Collection, this new HD digital transfer was created on a C-Reality Datacine with Oliver wetgate processing from a 35 mm low-contrast print struck from the original camera negative.  Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, spices, warps, jitter and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS system and Pixel Farm’s PFClean sytem, while Digital Vision’s DVNR system was used for small dirt, grain and noise reduction.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Makioka Sisters” is presented in monaural Japanese with English subtitles.  Dialogue is clear and the subtitles are easy to read.  I detected no hiss or any problems with the audio.

According to the Criterion Collection, the monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the optical track print.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Makioka Sisters – The Criterion Collection #567” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • Trailer –  The original theatrical trailer of “The Makioka Sisters”.

EXTRAS:

“The Makioka Sisters” comes with a  20-page booklet featuring the following essay “Of Love and Money” by Audie Bock.

When I was attending college and getting my minor in Japanese, one of my professor’s was a feminist who fought for the rights of Japanese women when she was younger and wanted us to see Japan in a different light. Especially of how Japanese women were treated. And she felt that if there was one film we had to watch in class, it was “The Makioka Sisters”.

Although at the time,  as a student, I never knew the importance of the film, nor was I aware of how the novel version captured Japanese readers.   And to find out how significant the book was as it featured details of an era of Japan that was well-documented in the book, but for the film and Ichikawa’s focus on the concept of marriage, it would make an impact on viewers.

Watching it today, what I did feel about the film is a reminiscence of a time of filmmaking especially based on the traditional Japanese family reminiscent of classic Yasujiro Ozu filmmaking.  Filmmaking that focused on family life, marriage and diminishing social status.  In this case, there is a bit of a twist as many movies tend to focus on Tokyo, in this case, it’s Osaka and for those not familiar with Tokyo (Kanto) and Osaka (Kansai) in the west, you can possibly compare it to those in Los Angeles vs. those in New York.  Different styles, different dialect and if you go to Japan, you will always hear from those in Tokyo of how Osaka is like this and vice versa of how Tokyo is like that.

In the case of “The Makioka Sisters”, the pride of a once wealthy family in Osaka is what is at stake.    And what I found so unique about the film was how it focused not on the family and parents but the conflict among sisters, their thoughts of status in hopes that one of their sisters can get married, in fact, all sisters are able to get married.  What Kon Ichikawa manages with great efficacy is balancing the development of each character, making us feel the conflict and highlighting the personal struggle.

Although I have not read the book and I have been told many times that the great Kobe flood of 1938 are not featured in the film, the film focuses on the personal and possibly a political statement from Ichikawa about the differences between Kanto and Kansai culture.  Before watching this movie, our professor felt it was very important for us to know the cultural difference between the two big metropolitan areas of Japan, similar in some ways but very different than others.  People are different in Tokyo vs. Osaka and in the case of “The Makioka Sisters”, Tokyo is where decline is happening and Osaka is where one tries to uphold tradition, if they can.

I also have to credit the cinematography of Kiyoshi Hasegawa, known more for his sci-fi cinematography for “Godzilla vs. Gigan” and even “Samurai Reincarnation” to name a few, Ichikawa and Hasegawa make sure they are able to showcase the beauty of the Makioka home, the beauty of Japan during the spring for the cherry blossoms and capturing the beauty of Japan of yesteryear, despite being shot in 1983.    The visual style, saturated colors look incredibly beautiful, especially this Blu-ray transfer courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

Criterion Collection fans will notice that the price of “The Makioka Sisters” is one of their lower priced Blu-ray titles and that is because the release does not come with any special features but the theatrical trailer.  Fortunately, a 20-page booklet is included.

While the film may not be as deep as classic family struggle films if compared to the classic films from Ozu, Naruse and Kurosawa, the film is gorgeous and the story is realistic, clear and a film that is pretty much straightforward without any major surprises. As mentioned, the novel has much more to offer than the film as it focuses on the Makioka sisters from 1936-1941, the movie version primarily focuses on 1938.  So, as the novel has more to feature in terms of what was happening in Japan during that time, focusing on both Osaka and Ashiya homes sans the great flood, by no means is this film weak.

Similar to how I felt back in college and more of an appreciation of the film now, “The Makioka Sisters” makes these characters quite real, especially seeing the rebellious side of Taeko Makioka and the shyness of Yukiko.  But how each of these women are very much different in many ways.  Especially from the older sisters versus their younger siblings.  The film has a good balance of humor and melodrama but for the most part, I enjoyed the film.

I enjoyed how “The Makioka Sisters” focuses on how Japan at the time, what families did for economic survival. A big difference when compared to Japan today when many couples are divorcing and many married couples are not having children (a great concern for Japan as the percentage of children born in Japan continues to shrink).

Overall, “The Makioka Sisters” is a delightful film that is melodramatic, straight-forward and beautiful to watch.  But just don’t come into this film with high expectations of anything too deep or else you will be disappointed.






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