Political Film Review #626


In early 1940, importer/exporter Yusaku Fukuhara (played by Issey Takahashi) goes from Kobe to Manchuria with his nephew, Fumio Takeshita (Ryôta Bandô). Manchuria, then controlled by Japan, was a place where purchases could be made at lower prices than in rationed Japan-or so he says. What he secretly obtains is a filming of how the Japanese spread bubonic plague along with a manuscript documenting evidence of the crime against humanity. They return with Hiroko Kusakabe (Hyunri Lee), who had evidently collected both, and she goes to live in a mountain retreat. But Fumio decides to leave for the same retreat to write a novel. Yusaku’s wife, actress Satoko Fukuhara (Yû Aoi), is entirely unaware of what he has been doing until she is informed by a friend since childhood who is now police chief Yasuharu Tsumori, nicknamed Taiji (Masahiro Higashide), that her husband is under surveillance because he is too Westernized. Next comes the mysterious death of Hiroko, for whom her husband applied for travel visas, according to Taiji. She then visits her nephew, who admits that he is under surveillance but gives her the film and document, which she places into a safe after returning home but later views the film. She asks her husband Yasaku about the situation, concluding that he is hiding something from her. Although she is upset that he has been withholding a secret from her, he explains that he wants the United States to know about the crime. Somehow, after agonizing about her role as wife of a spy, she is persuaded that his motive is honorable and tries to help him, but her way of doing so is to betray Fumio to police chief Taiji. Fumio is tortured and admits that he obtained the information, not Yusaka. Soon, husband and wife agree to leave Japan separately. He is rumored to have gone to India, where he boarded a ship for the United States that was torpedoed by the Japanese navy. She, however, is caught as a stowaway on an outbound ship, apprehended as a traitor, but ends up in a mental institution until 1945, when the war ends.

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wife of a Spy (Supai no tsuma) follows the pair step by step during 1940 and skips to 1945 but leaves unanswered questions about the fate of the protagonists and ultimately how the information ever leaked out so that a film could record the crime against humanity.

Although the story is fictional, the germ warfare crime is real. A Japanese court, with testimony from some of the Japanese responsible, declared in 2002 that a Japanese military unit engaged in vivisections of live victims; cultivated anthrax, cholera, typhoid, and other viruses; and dropped plague-infected fleas over several Chinese villages during World War II. However, no damages were awarded to many Chinese, some of whom flew to Japan to testify about their suffering.

The Political Film Society has nominated Wife of a Spy for best film exposé and best film on human rights of 2021. MH.

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