Director: Mamoru Hoshi
Starring: Tsuyoshi Kusanagi and Yuko Takeuchi
For those watch a lot of Japanese cinema, you know that there is no shortage of the romantic drama. It seems every year there is a gamut of ‘pure love’ stories that feature beautiful people and are meant to tug at the heartstrings. I suppose this is also true of many films in the United States but Japanese films, in my opinion, have the genre down to a science and many times they are formulaic to a fault. This isn’t bad necessarily and many of these films are considerably well acted with real talent behind the production. 1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife is based on a true story and is a film that released early in 2011. This film features two of Japan’s biggest stars teamed with a relatively unknown director, a cautionary signal if any. So is this film just more of the same, or does it bring something new to the table?
As stated above, 1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife is based on the true story of science fiction writer Taku Mayumura and his life episode dealing with the illness of his wife. Standing in for Mayumura is Sakutaro Makimura (Kusanagi) and his wife Setsuko (Takeuchi). Sakutaro is a moderately successful SF writer, that’s Japanese shorthand for Science Fiction for the uninitiated. He is a bit of a daydreamer but loves his work and the subject; his home is littered with toy robots, serial SF magazines, and movie memorabilia. Then there is his wife Setsuko, his high school sweetheart, longtime confidant, and first fan. She loves him dearly and puts up with all of his eccentricities as a creative mind with a smile and supportive word, even if he’s late to a meal because of a burst of inspiration. They lead a seemingly idyllic married life until Setsuko falls ill with an aggressive form of cancer. With the doctor giving an estimate of less than a year, Sakutaro is at a loss at what to do. Upon leaving the hospital, the doctor says that, “Laughter builds immunities” and with that Sakutaro begins to have idea. As a writer and with his wife wife being a fan, he decides that while she is ill, he will write her a story every day in order to make her laugh and keep her spirits up. What happens after chronicles their journey dealing with her illness and at the same time reproducing some of the more memorable stories in what would become a 5 year literary project.
For those that have dealt with or have had a family member with a serious illness, this film treats many of the trials of such an ordeal with great respect and a delicate gentle truth. Heavy issues such as; the inability to bear children, the high cost of medical treatment, weakening due to said treatment and illness, and the prospect of the finality of the disease are broken up with the smile inducing adaptations of his short stories to his wife, finding happiness in everyday things, and the comfort of being with loved ones. The aspect of the stories written by Sakutaro serves as a way early on to lighten the mood and bring out laughter in his wife. These segments are very entertaining and contain quality visual effects and interesting cameos. This continues on through most of the film until Setsuko’s health takes a turn for the worse in the final act. Upon reaching this point, you as the viewer recall that she is dying and each subsequently numbered story means a step closer to the end. This is an ingenious technique that provides brightness while serving as a countdown towards inevitability. By the time he writes his final story for her, your eyes should be misty if not outright tearing up.
As Sakutaro and Setsuko, Kusanagi and Takeuchi exhibit great chemistry and you do not doubt for a moment that they hold each other as the most important thing in each of their lives. Kusanagi plays Sakutaro with a bit of awkwardness at the beginning, but as the film progresses, he displays a great range of emotions as the husband coping with seeing his love slowly die in front of him. Takeuchi is beautiful and full of grace as Setsuko, the wife who always tries to put up a brave front while fearing death and feeling her life ebb away. They are backed up by a good supporting cast with Ren Osugi as her physician and Shosuke Tanihara as Sakutaro’s old friend and fellow writer. The cast expands with good physical performances by the population of the hospital when Setsuko is admitted. Watching the film, you truly care for these characters and by film’s end you share similar emotions with those on screen. A great job to the actors indeed.
Many Japanese dramas tend to drag on towards the end, but the pacing of this film was no different. There is a point where the film definitely could have avoided in order to make the pacing tidier, but the use of this particular plot point seems cheap. I am reticent to say what is that particular scene, but viewers of the film will definitely know to what I am referring. The photography is appropriately beautiful and and dark with intelligent use of lighting and camera sweeps. The music is somewhat forgettable unfortunately though I do believe it serves better as accompaniment to the film’s visuals than standing on its own.
In summation, 1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife is a touching and sentimental film about love, death, and everything between. It carries a strong message about the fleetfulness of life and that one should take the time to spend it with those that make you happy doing the things that make you happy. While still held by certain genre and cultural film conventions, it is able to provide a personal and audience involved tale. Highly recommended.
You may enjoy this film if you enjoyed: Love Letter, Crying Out Love…, Departures