An Aparna Sen film is always special. Like her previous endeavours, THE JAPANESE WIFE [a film in Bengali with English sub-titles] also looks at relationships. Only thing, this time it’s about two strangers, who start off as pen friends, exchange letters, get drawn towards each other, even get married through letters, but never meet each other. Despite staying apart and not meeting even once, the couple share an honest and chaste relationship, confiding the smallest of incident to one another, thru letters and phone calls. This unique story [penned by Kunal Basu] is translated beautifully on celluloid thanks to Aparna Sen’s deft handling of the material. Of course, a story like this unwinds at a leisurely pace, but there’s no denying that the proceedings keep you engrossed for most parts, mainly towards the penultimate moments. Aparna Sen also gets it right because her choice of actors is perfect. And the characters they portray are real as well as unreal. Real, because there do exist people who look beyond physical relationships and who eventually become soul mates. It’s unreal at the same time because, in today’s times, when love, sex
and dhokha have become a norm, characters like Snehamoy and Miyage appear straight out of dreams. Do they belong to this era, really? You may watch THE JAPANESE WIFE for varied reasons. But I recommend that you watch it with someone you love. Snehamoy [Rahul Bose] and Miyage [Chigusa Takaku] are pen friends, who exchange wedding vows through letters. Yet, even after fifteen years of marriage, the two have not met. It is always a question of not having enough money or Miyage’s sick mother or Snehamoy’s mashi’s [Moushumi Chatterjee] health. But their physical absence in each other’s lives never comes in the way of their sense of belonging as a couple. A young widow, Sandhya [Raima Sen], comes to stay with Snehmoy along with her eight-year-old son Paltu. Sandhya is Snehamoy’s mashi’s god-daughter. With Sandhya, Snehamoy discovers a bond of domesticity as they gradually start sharing household chores. With Paltu, Snehamoy discovers the joys of fatherhood. When Miyage falls sick and has to leave her home to live with her brother, Snehamoy is frantic with worry. As days pass by and Miyage’s health worsens, it becomes clear that Snehamoy will need to visit an oncologist in Kolkata to get a proper assessment of his wife’s condition. A storm strikes as he makes his way to the city and he returns disheartened and severely drenched. Far from his wife and desperately worried over her health, Snehamoy’s life hangs by the thread as he is tended by Sandhya, just as any beloved husband would be by a loving wife. A compelling story comes alive if the writing has meat and the actors are on the same page as the director. Aparna successfully creates a world that’s so simple and relatable. In fact, that’s one of the highpoints of the film. The purity and simplicity is what wins you over.On the flip side, the bond between Rahul and Paltu comes across well, but the relationship between Rahul and Raima isn’t too convincing. The writing isn’t coherent during these portions. Also, the sub-titles get merged with the colours on screen and aren’t decipherable at most times. Talking of performances, Rahul Bose delivers a stellar performance. He portrays his character with panache. Chigusa Takaku is equally convincing, enacting her part with restraint. Raima doesn’t get too many lines to deliver, but conveys a lot through her eyes. Moushumi Chatterjee is a revelation. She’s exceptional.
On the whole, THE JAPANESE WIFE is an emotional journey that keeps you hooked for its sheer novel story. A film for connoisseurs of art house cinema mainly!