PICTURE BRIDE is straightforward and poignant tale simply told.
It is reminiscent of one of John Steinbeck's short novels. Although
the movie is full of tragedy, hardship, and miserable living
conditions, it is nevertheless, a serene and peaceful show. The quiet
determination of the people, as amply demonstrated by their ability to
sing joyfully even when oppressed, shows an inner peace that seems to
permeate the audience as well as the characters. The scene of the
peaceful lanterns floating out to sea during one of the Japanese
festivals provides an apt metaphor.
PICTURE BRIDE tells a part of history that I did not know about.
One of the exciting reasons to be a movie-goer is to be able to live
vicariously segments of history that our teachers never taught us.
Here we learn that in the first 20 years of this century, there were
tens of thousands of women living in Japan who were chosen to be brides
by Japanese farm laborers living on Hawaii. The choice of bride was
based mainly on their pictures, hence the title.
In PICTURE BRIDE, our protagonist, Riyo (Youki Kudoh), has to
leave Japan for some mysterious reason and agrees to be a picture
bride. Unlike most of the brides who will go to be laborers in Hawaii
on sugar cane plantations, Riyo is not from the country. Instead, she
is a frail "city girl" (Yokohama) not well suited for a harsh life
toiling in the fields.
Her new husband, Matsuji (Akira Takayama), seems to be a handsome
young man in his 20s based on his photo. When Riyo is asked to
identify her new husband she is horrified to see how old he is. She
tries unsuccessfully to refuse him like one might send back a book from
a mail order book club. She then spends most of the film taking on
extra work so she can save enough money to leave him and return to her
native land and to the easier life of the big city. Eventually, he
does confess his age to her, and he is, gasp, 43!
Riyo becomes good friends with Kana (Tamlyn Tomita) who too is
saving to leave her husband and return to Japan. You may remember
Tomita from the wonderful THE JOY LUCK CLUB. I do not recall having
seen any of the other actors before.
Although the movie is about inner strength, coping, and finding
fulfillment, there are other themes. One is the multidimensional
racism of that era. As portrayed in this film, the caste system in
Hawaii was rigid. At the top were the English managers, next were the
Portuguese supervisors, followed by the Japanese laborers who got the
best pay, and last were the Filipino workers who did the same work and
received the worst wages. There was hatred and jealousy among them
all. The worst was the Portuguese supervisor. As a surprising change,
the English manager was shown as a good guy.
I liked the script by Kayo and Mari Hatta based on a story by
Diane Mark - clear and crisp. Another writer that came to mind while
watching the movie was Hemmingway. My only problem with the story was
that I did not find the bad character credible. He was written as too
much of a caricature. A more realistic evil would have improved the
tale. It may have been that director Kayo Hatta just wanted to paint
his canvas in nothing but stark black and white images.
One final aspect of the movie worth mentioning is the nighttime
cinematography (Claudio Rocha), set decoration, and sound effects. All
came together to evoke a magical feel of a cane field at night. The
daytime images of the burning cane fields was also striking. The
sometimes dramatic and sometimes serene music (Cliff Eidelman)
throughout the movie provided just the appropriate ambiance.
There is not much of a plot to PICTURE BRIDE. It does provide
nice imagery and low key but well done acting. It is not a terrific
show, but a peaceful diversion.
PICTURE BRIDE runs 1:41 including 10 minutes of extremely long
credits that acknowledge 18 historical advisors (16 of whom were Dr.
this or that) and even thanks the shoe repairmen. It is rated PG-13
for reasons that escape me. This is a PG movie bordering on a G
rating. If you think your kids would be interested in the story, it
would be fine to take them. I recommend this little movie to you and
award it ** 1/2.
Copyright © 1995 Steve Rhodes