The Makioka Sisters (1983)

The Makioka Sisters

Dir. Kon Ichikawa, 1983

In 1983, Toho commemorated its 50th anniversary by producing The Makioka Sisters, a sprawling prestige adaptation of a 1940s serial novel, featuring some of the most notable actors in Japan. The result was mixed.

Set in 1938, The Makioka Sisters focuses around a family of four sisters who sold their late father’s kimono shop some years ago. The oldest sister Tsuruko is distant from the others, but is wary of moving to Tokyo with her husband. The second oldest Sachiko takes care of the rest of the family and is concerned with marrying off the younger sisters: traditional Yukiko, who is approaching old maid status after a well-publicized illicit romance, and free-spirited Taeko, who only wants to make dolls for a living and spend her life with a man she loves.

Although adapted from a novel, director Kon Ichikawa prefers to use visuals to tell his story, with its four seasons representing four sisters. Most notable of all is that the three older sisters always wear kimonos, while Taeko dresses like a modern western woman, more suited to the streets of Tokyo or New York than her family’s dark, antiquatedly spacious bungalow.

If only the dialogue was so good. After praising the visual storytelling, The AV Club’s Scott Tobias called the film out on its “oft-turgid melodrama,” and I am inclined to agree. This film would have been just as effective if it was silent. C+