THE JAPANESE WIFE refuses to let us into her Minka (traditional Japanese home) and leaves us unsatisfied. The short story by Kunal Basu, adapted and directed by Aparna Sen, does not lend itself to adaptation. The evolution of a marriage between the Bengali Snehamoy (Rahul Bose) in a Sunderban village and a Japanese woman, Miyage (Chigusa Takaku), who don’t meet but write letters to each other in English — their second language — might flow soundly in the written medium. But in a film where the letters are read out in overly accented voiceovers, such subtle romance is drowned in pidgin drone. Snehamoy tells Miyage twice that he expresses himself adequately in writing, but is terrible at speaking on the phone. Why then will an audience suffering the onslaught of his grating English mispronunciations do anything but sigh in relief at the end of each outpouring?
Yet there is not much real outpouring. The letters fast forward from the writers becoming pen friends to their marriage — solemnised by sending each other symbols of traditional matrimony. Even as they live out their commitment, the letters abstain from emotional exchange — acting only as cold war code carriers, offering information to propel the plot. The one reason this peculiar relationship supposedly evolves is that both letter writers are introverts. Yet why would an introvert marry his or her one distant pen friend and abide by it? The answer should be found in between the lines of correspondence. But The Japanese Wife shies from curbing curiosity and so loses our interest.
The film is evocative, expertly directed and edited. The cinematography is lyrical, the music soulful. Even side characters are etched in vivid detail. Engaging performances abound, particularly from Moushumi Chatterjee. The cinemascaping of the Sunderbans village and people provides fertile backdrop for the festering of the innocence this make-believe marriage requires. Yet all is sacrificed to a script which, lacking a centre, falls. And so this “love poem by Aparna Sen” becomes a haiku missing its mora.