THE MAKIOKA SISTERS (Kon Ichikawa, 1983)

Among Kon Ichikawa’s most exquisitely detailed, exacting and poignant films, Sasame-yuki—literally, Fine Snow but called in the U.S. and the UK The Makioka Sisters—opens with long-shots of gorgeous springtime landscapes softened by rain-mists, followed by closeups of cherry blossoms from which petals of rain drop. (A fierce waterfall brings this earlier image to frightening fruition.) Cut to indoors and two of the Makioka sisters, all four of whom have come here to Kyoto from Osaka, as they do every year, to drink in the beauty, mark another year in their lives and, unconsciously, face down the transience of life evidence of which dogs them. Both their parents are deceased, and the family’s finances, once ripe and full, have significantly dwindled, fallen to earth like fragile blossoms. Closeups of the flowers outdoors have been replaced by alternating closeups, indoors, of sisters Sachiko and Taeko. They are squabbling over money: the money set aside for Taeko’s marriage dowry that Taeko wants now for another purpose: to start a doll-making business. Sachiko, who is married, thus upholds tradition, refusing her younger sister, while Taeko cultivates the air of self-determination. It is 1938; Japan has already “raped” Nanking, and World War II, defeat and the mostly U.S. occupation await. Taeko is a look ahead to the future of Japan.
     Ichikawa patiently chronicles the lives of these sisters, creating an elegiac tapestry of Japan’s changing fortunes through the years. His four actresses are all wonderful, as is Jûzô Itami (best supporting actor, Yokohama, and both the Hochi and Kinema Junpo Awards) as sister Tsuruko’s spouse, who bended to necessity by selling the family kimono business: another loss of loveliness.
     Based on the novel by Junichirô Tanizaki, the film captures the spirit of the downward passage of time.

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