'Wife of a Spy' review: Hitchcock overtones in 1940s-set thriller

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa creates a stilted mood in his latest.

Tom Long
Special to The Detroit News

There’s no real spy in “Wife of a Spy,” but there’s plenty of high stakes intrigue and betrayal. 

It’s 1941 with Japan on the brink of going to war against the United States. The dapper Yusaku Fukuhara (Issey Takahashi) runs a successful fabric company. He and his wife, Satoko (Yu Aoi), are far from Japanese traditionalists. They wear Western clothing, appreciate good whiskey and make short films as a hobby.

Issey Takahashi and Yu Aoi in "Wife of a Spy."

Yusaku doesn’t think much of the Japanese government; he’s no radical but sees the brewing war as wrong-minded. Still, when he takes a business trip to Japanese-occupied Manchuria, it’s just a business trip.

But he returns home a few weeks later a changed man. He’s seen Japanese doctors conducting deadly experiments on Chinese prisoners, concocting biological weapons for the war to come. And he’s got evidence, which he now wants to get to the United States.

Soon there’s a murder of a mysterious woman. Then Yusaku’s nephew is arrested and tortured. Yusaku eventually tells Satoko what he knows and what he intends to do. No, he’s not a spy because he’s not working for anyone. But he does intend to become a traitor.

Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa certainly captures a 1940s feel here: dialogue can be pointedly stilted, the film darts back and forth from color to black-and-white, moody lighting softens the air and then a horrific torture scene ratchets up tension. Alfred Hitchcock would be impressed.

The smooth Yusaku drives the action, but the film’s soul is Satoko, a woman in love who just wants to do the right thing. Her life gets shattered by events beyond her control, just as so many people found their lives shattered by the war. By the film’s end she’s ragged, confused and desperate, one casualty among millions.

Tom Long is a longtime contributor to The Detroit News.

'Wife of a Spy'

GRADE: B

Not rated

Running time: 115 minutes

At the Detroit Film Theatre