Cast:Rahul Bose, Raima Sen, Chigasu Takaku and Moushmi Chatterjee
How much you enjoy Aparna Sen’s The Japanese Wife is directly proportionate to how patient you are.
In the age of instant messaging, this is an old world epistolary romance. And it unfolds at approximately the same speed with which a letter moves from Japan to a village in the Sunderbans.
The film is slow to the point of being painful. And yet, if you stay with it, The Japanese Wife is a rewarding experience. It’s rich with yearning and sadness and yet hopeful, in a quiet way.
Based on a short story by Kunal Basu, The Japanese Wife is about Snehamoy Chatterjee, played by Rahul Bose, a meek Mathematics teacher in a village and his Japanese pen-pal Miyagi.
Both are lonely souls who cannot communicate with people around them but somehow establish a cross-continental connection with each other.
After several years of letters, she proposes marriage. He accepts. This unusual relationship becomes even more difficult when a young widow, Sandhya, played by Raima Sen, moves into Snehamoy’s house. But despite these seemingly insurmountable odds, Snehamoy and Miyagi stay soul-mates until the end.
This isn’t a love story with grand sweep and passion. It’s a minimalist rendering of a chaste, almost surreal love. But Sen makes us believe in it because she tells the story with great empathy and affection.
It will take you a good half hour to get settled into the tale. In the first fifteen minutes, the action almost completely unfolds in the form of letters that Snehamoy and Miyagi write to each other. Their heavily accented English voice-overs are clumsy and distracting.
The Bengali portions of the film are sub-titled but in some scenes, the yellow sub-titles are difficult to read. You are likely to get extremely restless—at the show I was at, one person succumbed to loud snoring—but as I said before, hang in there.
Because The Japanese Wife will grow on you. It has a simplicity and sweetness that is rare in these cacophonous times.
The leads – Rahul Bose, Raima Sen and Moushmi Chatterjee as Snehamoy’s boisterous aunt – hold the film together with strong performances. Sen also uses the landscape effectively. The swelling and ebbing river that dictates so much of Snehamoy’s existence seems to echo his life.
A quiet surface hides the turbulence beneath. Snehamoy’s life is heart-breaking and yet his devotion and the sustenance he gets from Miyagi’s letters suggest that it is perhaps better to have loved and never met rather than never to have loved at all.
The Japanese Wife is an acquired taste. But if you’re the type of viewer who is willing to sacrifice pacing for poignance, I recommend you go for it.