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Picture Bride

movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Picture Bride

Starring: Youki Kudoh, Akira Takayama
Director: Kayo Hatta
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 95 Minutes
Release Date: May 1995
Genres: Drama, Foreign

*Also starring: Tamlyn Tomita, Toshiro Mifune, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

PICTURE BRIDE is straightforward and poignant tale simply told. It is reminiscent of one of John Steinbeck's short novels. Although the movie is full of tragedy, hardship, and miserable living conditions, it is nevertheless, a serene and peaceful show. The quiet determination of the people, as amply demonstrated by their ability to sing joyfully even when oppressed, shows an inner peace that seems to permeate the audience as well as the characters. The scene of the peaceful lanterns floating out to sea during one of the Japanese festivals provides an apt metaphor.

PICTURE BRIDE tells a part of history that I did not know about. One of the exciting reasons to be a movie-goer is to be able to live vicariously segments of history that our teachers never taught us. Here we learn that in the first 20 years of this century, there were tens of thousands of women living in Japan who were chosen to be brides by Japanese farm laborers living on Hawaii. The choice of bride was based mainly on their pictures, hence the title.

In PICTURE BRIDE, our protagonist, Riyo (Youki Kudoh), has to leave Japan for some mysterious reason and agrees to be a picture bride. Unlike most of the brides who will go to be laborers in Hawaii on sugar cane plantations, Riyo is not from the country. Instead, she is a frail "city girl" (Yokohama) not well suited for a harsh life toiling in the fields.

Her new husband, Matsuji (Akira Takayama), seems to be a handsome young man in his 20s based on his photo. When Riyo is asked to identify her new husband she is horrified to see how old he is. She tries unsuccessfully to refuse him like one might send back a book from a mail order book club. She then spends most of the film taking on extra work so she can save enough money to leave him and return to her native land and to the easier life of the big city. Eventually, he does confess his age to her, and he is, gasp, 43!

Riyo becomes good friends with Kana (Tamlyn Tomita) who too is saving to leave her husband and return to Japan. You may remember Tomita from the wonderful THE JOY LUCK CLUB. I do not recall having seen any of the other actors before.

Although the movie is about inner strength, coping, and finding fulfillment, there are other themes. One is the multidimensional racism of that era. As portrayed in this film, the caste system in Hawaii was rigid. At the top were the English managers, next were the Portuguese supervisors, followed by the Japanese laborers who got the best pay, and last were the Filipino workers who did the same work and received the worst wages. There was hatred and jealousy among them all. The worst was the Portuguese supervisor. As a surprising change, the English manager was shown as a good guy.

I liked the script by Kayo and Mari Hatta based on a story by Diane Mark - clear and crisp. Another writer that came to mind while watching the movie was Hemmingway. My only problem with the story was that I did not find the bad character credible. He was written as too much of a caricature. A more realistic evil would have improved the tale. It may have been that director Kayo Hatta just wanted to paint his canvas in nothing but stark black and white images.

One final aspect of the movie worth mentioning is the nighttime cinematography (Claudio Rocha), set decoration, and sound effects. All came together to evoke a magical feel of a cane field at night. The daytime images of the burning cane fields was also striking. The sometimes dramatic and sometimes serene music (Cliff Eidelman) throughout the movie provided just the appropriate ambiance.

There is not much of a plot to PICTURE BRIDE. It does provide nice imagery and low key but well done acting. It is not a terrific show, but a peaceful diversion.

PICTURE BRIDE runs 1:41 including 10 minutes of extremely long credits that acknowledge 18 historical advisors (16 of whom were Dr. this or that) and even thanks the shoe repairmen. It is rated PG-13 for reasons that escape me. This is a PG movie bordering on a G rating. If you think your kids would be interested in the story, it would be fine to take them. I recommend this little movie to you and award it ** 1/2.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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