A few months ago, a pal complained that they don’t make movies about normal people dealing with normal stuff anymore. Looking at the listings for my nearby movie theater, there’s a lack of normalcy. It’s either superheroes, singing (although the trailers won’t admit it) or science experiments gone out of control. We don’t go to the movies to see how people handle their normal lives when something happens that isn’t a mutant from outer space or a toy coming to life. I thought about that again while watching The Sting of Death. This Japanese movie from 1990 is about a couple dealing with stuff that happens to normal people. In this case, the couple in the film are faced with infidelity and mental issues.
These aren’t the Happy Days for a family in 1950s Japan. Miho (Lovers Lost‘s Keiko Masuzaka) has discovered her husband Toshio (Made In Japan‘s Ittoku Kishibe) has been sleeping around. Instead of grabbing the kids and running to a divorce lawyer’s office, Miho has gone straight to a desire to kill herself. He begs her to not do something so drastic. She tears into him for being a hack writer who can never support her the way she deserves. It’s the kind of conversation you might hear when things are going extremely bad in marriage. Even as Toshio commits himself to being a better husband and father, his past creeps back into his life. One of his mistresses doesn’t want the relationship to end. The wife is easily set off. She freaks out at the train station when she spots the mistress. She’s not the only one with mental issues. The husband attempts to end his life including a bedroom scene where they both go to drastic measures while the two kids slumber on the floor nearby. It’s hard to tell who will survive this marriage on the rocks.
I’m not sure what the feeling about divorce was in ’50s Japan, so it might not have been a solution. Seeing what a failure Toshio’s writing career has been, she probably wouldn’t see much in child support. In the midst of this crucible of a relationship, director Kohei Oguri and cinematographer Shohei Ando gives us these subtle and quiet shots of the Amami Islands. No matter how peaceful things look, there’s a rumbling between the couple. The movie is reportedly a rather faithful adaptation of the novel by Toshio Shimao. Seeing how the main character’s name is Toshio and the author’s wife is Miho, it’s safe to say the novel is based on his own marriage. It should also be mentioned that Toshio was training to be a Kamikaze pilot when World War II came to an abrupt end. He’s probably a person who needed more mental health assistance than he’s willing to admit.
The Sting of Death has those real moments people go through when a relationship gets messed up. This is a relationship shown in a raw state. Toshio and Miho need each other and are so toxic. His affairs pump up her paranoia. The ending finally gives them a space where they might be able find peace with each other. It’s a romance movie for people who don’t want to see a happy couple running through a field to embrace.
This is a limited edition run of 3,000 Blu-rays.
The Video is 1.66:1 anamorphic. The 1080p transfer brings out the beauty of the frame even in ugly situations between the couple. The Audio is LPCM mono. The levels are great so you can hear the tension and explosions. The movie is subtitled in English.
Japanese Cinema: New Territories (56:40) is a documentary by Hubert Niogret about Japanese Cinema’s revival in the 1990s from 2011. Among the people interviewed are Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Miike, Hayao Miyazaki, Kohei Oguri, Yoichi Sai, Tadao Sato, Kaneto Shindo, Isao Takahata, Koji Wakamatsu and Yoji Yamada.
Hideki Maeda (20:25) has the scholar talk about the original novel by Toshio Shimao and the movie. He gets into the I-novel elements. The movie does get deep inside the book.
Booklet features an interview with director Kohei Oguri. He talks about author Toshio Shimao and the novel.
Radiance Films present The Sting of Death. Directed by Kohei Oguri. Screenplay by Kohei Oguri. Starring Keiko Matsuzaka, Ittoku Kishibe, Midori Kiuchi, Takenori Matsumura, Yuri Chikamori, Akira Yamanouchi & Miyoko Nakamura. Running Time: 115 minutes. Rating: Unrated. Release Date: Febuary 6, 2024.