Portrait of a Time Already Gone in Japanese Family Drama The Makioka Sisters


The setting is the wartime precipice of 1938; the synthesizer score is distinctly 1983. When he finally succeeded in filming Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel, Kon Ichikawa was 68 years old—a living link to Japan’s cinematic Golden Age, taking on a self-consciously throwback prestige production. The Makioka Sisters details the interlocked emotional lives of four Osakan siblings, orphaned young and left as caretakers of the once-prestigious Makioka name. Observing each woman meeting this duty, The Makioka Sisters is a Whartonian work of compassionate nostalgia tinctured with irony. Tsuruko (Keiko Kishi) and her husband are the family leaders—but the unmarried youngest sisters stay away from the old family seat, living instead with Sachiko (Yoshiko Sakuma) and family. Familial code requires that marriages be arranged in strict chronological succession, so the youngest, Taeko (Yuko Kotegawa), inclined toward bohemia and Western dress, impatiently waits on the decision of Yukiko (Sayuri Yoshinaga), a paragon of classical pulchritude who has her own reasons for clinging to Sachiko’s house. The unspoken something between Yukiko and Sachiko’s husband is given almost entirely, unmistakably, in eyelines, typifying the film’s mapping out of relationships in quiet clarity, which is overwhelmed sporadically by onrushes of beauty—a rapturous collage of kimono fabric, or the sisters’ annual spring viewing of the cherry blossoms, figures at the center of an already-gone world.

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