You know what? In some ways, we’ve all been scarred. It doesn’t necessarily always stem from our family upbringing, though there’s certainly fingers worth pointing back there. When we finally become whoever it is we’re destined to become, only then can we look back and achieve a better grasp on why we sometimes do the crazy, curious things we do. And – for those fascinated with the more Freudian pursuits – it doesn’t always have to involve emotional wounds linked to our sexuality. True, it could … but as a critical thinker I tend to believe the psychologist living deep inside each of us might effectively convince us otherwise.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the product packaging: “Mixed up by desire, love and hatred, Minoru, a troubled young man begins tailing and eventually tries to save his neighbor, Satoko, a beautiful housewife who has turned to prostitution despite her comfortable lifestyle. Together the two look to escape the grasp of a twisted Yakuza pimp.”
Psychosexual dramas are a dime a dozen on this side of the pond, but I’ve seen more than my share of pink films and hentai anime to know that the Japanese take their sexual hang-ups just as seriously as anyone does. As much as M (aka M: A MARRIED WOMAN) tries to ultimately be about something more deeply rooted than misplaced sexual longings and aggression, in the end I found it difficult to reconcile all of these character motivations satisfactorily. It led me to believe A, but, in the end, A could’ve been B. Who’s to say?
Satoko (as played with understated beauty by actress Miwon) has a great home life except for the fact that she would appear to have little to no interest in her husband. Unfortunately, the story never quite crystallizes around the reason she’s no longer smitten with the man; instead, it immediately veers into that psychosexual territory perhaps in order to come up with an explanation close viewers would accept. Granted, as the story develops, we see that perhaps a past relationship is creating roadblocks to her current happiness; the story – as adapted from the novel “M” by Seishu Hase – just never gives her ‘old man’ a chance.
Instead, we’re treated to his existence as being fundamentally dreary. He’s trapped in a loveless relationship with his young wife (we see her not interested in his sexual advances). He’s trapped in an unchallenging office career where his peers seem intent to put the spark back into his life by introducing him to internet porn. He ends up trying to build an emotional connection with another young woman in a private club, but he’s only interested in ‘getting to know her’ in the Friend Zone.
The other male roles in the film include the aforementioned Minoru (Kengo Koura) and the Yakuza pimp; of the two, Minoru is the only one who isn’t immediately reduced to cinematic stereotype. Actor Koura actually makes great mileage in some small moments; despite his outward appearance as a drifter, he’s struggling to understand the world around him in ways that transcend the violence. The only problem is that – as we learn – he has to resort to violence in the climax in order to effectively achieve something that resembles personal salvation.
By the film’s finish, both of our main characters psychological issues are addressed. While the narrative leads one to believe that they’ve finally solved their respective problems, I couldn’t help but wonder if they actually made their lives easier or worse by now having a much larger secret both must share.
Lastly, I’d be remiss in my duties if I failed to point out that M was screened to some acclaim at the Natfilm Festival, the Tokyo International Film Festival, and the Rotterdam International Film Festival.
M: A MARRIED WOMAN (2006) is produced by Basara Pictures and M Film Partners. DVD distribution (stateside) is being handled by MVD Visual. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Japanese spoken language film with English subtitles available. (Note: there is not English dubbed track.) As for the technical specifications, this is an excellently produced film with some very high quality sights and sounds – there was one sequence wherein the mix seemed a bit off as the dialogue dipped, but it was nothing all that distracting. As is often the case when these foreign releases find eventual distribution on American shores, there are no legitimate special features to speak of.
RECOMMENDED. At times uneven, M: A MARRIED WOMAN remains a terrific character drama with sexual elements. (Yes, there’s nudity and sex scenes, but unlike other films exploring similar themes it never feels gratuitous or exploitative … or, at least, it didn’t to me.) M tries to address a reality that perhaps not many of us share point-for-point, but we can all relate to having some unrequited feelings in our past that perhaps led us to make not our best decisions.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MVD Visual provided me with a DVD copy of M: A MARRIED WOMAN by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.