Kana: The first time I get off the boat, I see Kanzaki. I think, “Ooh! He’s so handsome. How I get this kind handsome man? More better than picture!” All the other brides look at us, tell me “Lucky!” He act so nice, so kind. I think I’m in paradise.
Riyo: Why Kanzak-san change?
Kana: [tearfully] I don’t know. But my, he get mean.
This is a beautiful, beautiful movie. Amy Tan described it as “devastatingly beautiful.” I probably wouldn’t put it like that, because it conjures images of Jodie Foster getting sucker punched in the gut while traveling through a wormhole in a space pod, but yeah, it’s beautiful, and definitely a keeper for me. I buy very few movies, but I would buy this one.
As the title suggests, the movie is about picture brides in the early 20th century, 1918 to be precise, back when times were simpler, before World War II fucked everything up. So all the Taiwanese people that wish they were Japanese can watch this movie and feel fuzzy wuzzy. God, am I an asshole, or what? But technically things were already starting to get fucked up over there between Japan, China, Korea, and Russia. But hey! Between us Americans and the Japanese, things were just peachy, for the most part anyway. Alright, enough history! Back to the beautiful movie!
As I was saying, it’s about a picture bride named Riyo. With her way of life as she knows it ending, she tries her hand at arranged marriage. She has her photo taken and a potential match in Hawaii responds. Apparently lots of Japanese and Koreans (Chinese Exclusion Act, cough) emigrated to America around this time period to do plantation work, but they lacked wives; they needed womenfolk! Grrrowl! So the man responds with a photo of his own, as well as a sweet haiku. She is as pleased as one can be with her situation. So off she goes to strange Hawaii, far from the homeland.
When she arrives, things are not quite as she expected, and she becomes resentful. But her new husband is kind. 1918 kind. When he tries to consummate the marriage, she bites him. Kinky! She cringes for the coming Chris Brown beat down, but he just shrugs and goes to sleep. She then makes it her mission to accrue funds to return to Japan.
Being a city girl, “Yokohama girl”, Kiyo has some trouble with the hard country work, but she tries her best. Eventually, she opens her heart to her hubbie, but by then he has started to close up. And the rest you’ll have to see.
The movie’s a little hard to understand. The English is heavily accented, and it’s mixed up with Hawaiian, and Japanese. I think the only Hawaiian I understood was “wahine.” You may want to consider turning on the closed captioning, in addition to the subtitles, but it’s not that big of a deal.
Apparently this movie was director Kayo Hatta’s first movie, which is pretty impressive. She states that she violated most “don’ts” for first movies: period piece, on location, real babies. But she pulled it off. And I highly recommend it. Despite where my review started going, the movie is largely apolitical, which is really refreshing. With all the murder I’ve been seeing in movies lately, it’s a soothing change, without getting too chick flicky. All that matters is the microcosm on the plantation and the people in it. Good old honest country work in the fields of beautiful Hawaii. It’s the Republican wet dream, like when Flanders moves out of Springfield.
The movie clocks in at 93 minutes, which is great. Concise, lean, and mean. There were a couple questions left unanswered, but I’m glad the movie ended when it did. It further emphasized that the movie is strictly about Kiyo and her early experiences as an immigrant in a far away land. They stuck to it and delivered, hook, line, and sinker. Although the movie kept the apolitical tone until the very end, knowing your history does make the ending a little extra sad.
And I just realized how fobby that first quote is. But hey, this movie is literally about fobs.