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3.8 out of 5 stars
The Makioka Sisters (The Criterion Collection)
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2013
Subtitles = 1/2 star; film = three stars. A pot boiler with sumptuous production values. Exterior location and interior sets look/are authentic. The kimonos are stunning. Acting, direction, and cinematography are close to (if not) first rate. Authentic Western Japan dialect (now and then). That's the good stuff. Now the rest. If you were native-born Japanese and lacked English language conversational skills (more and more a rarity today), imagine how, say, a BBC soap opera would come across based on subtitles? Without being able to catch and enjoy much in the way of acting nuances, subplots, etc., would it appear to be just plain tedious, repetitious, and boring? Probably. Also an apt description of this Criterion disc version: it's tedious, repetitious, and boring. The subtitles are vacuous and often incorrect. The disc cries out for extensive supplemental material on what the film is about, the culture it recreates, the author of the source material, backgrounds on the director and lead actresses, etc. If you lack Japanese conversational skills, work on your Japanese, and then re-visit the film in a few years. You might be amazed at how much it has "improved"! Except for the cheap synthesized music. WILLIAM FLANIGAN
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14 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 19, 2011
I had high hopes for "The Makioka Sisters," for three reasons: 1) I love serious Japanese cinema; 2) I enjoy and respect two of director Kon Ichikawa's earlier films, "The Burmese Harp" and "Fires on the Plain"; and 3) the Criterion Collection almost always puts out great stuff. So imagine my surprise when "The Makioka Sisters" ended up being a massive piece of fluff! I'm glad I only rented it, and didn't just buy it sight unseen.

To be fair, I can understand why many people would like - or even love - this movie. It's a beautifully photographed film, and it has the aura of seriousness. But I couldn't help feeling that it's simply too long (clocking in at two hours and 20 minutes!), too melodramatic, and too superficial. Indeed, Donald Richie - the most influential critic of Japanese film to emerge from the West - has written off this film as a lame excuse to showcase pretty kimonos and "poetic" shots of cherry blossoms. While I don't always agree with Richie, I think he's spot on in this case.

Another major problem with the film is that the characters are thinly drawn and almost aggressively unlikeable (for example, witness how both of the elder Makioka sisters cruelly bully their servants). The oldest sister, played by the normally great actress Keiko Kishi, starts out shrewish and makes a totally unexplained conversion to being nice. The second-oldest sister, meanwhile, exists only to express shock at what her siblings are doing; I lost count of the number of times she gasps and exclaims "eeeeeh?!" in reaction to almost every little thing that happens around her. As for the youngest sister, I learned nothing about her except that she's a hellraiser (by 1930s Japanese standards) who likes hooking up with lower-class men. Her relationships with these men are never really explored, so they fall flat.

To matters even worse, the film has a very tacky, 1980s synthesizer score, and it occasionally lapses into music video territory, with arty-farty shots of falling petals or extreme closeups of kimonos abruptly jammed into the action. These strange touches severely undermine the movie's ambition to be a realistic domestic drama.

As for the Criterion Collection's DVD - it has a very attractive print but no notable special features, which is yet another reason to pass on this one. As an alternative to watching this, I would recommend almost any movie directed by Yasujiro Ozu, who had a unique gift for crafting beautiful domestic dramas. "The Makioka Sisters," by contrast, is more like soap opera than art.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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I've just finished watching this for the third time spaced months apart. I like it a little more each time I see it. It's a great character study, an account of changes in Japanese society as it moves into modernity and is very well-filmed.

The four sisters, who live together in the same household, appear to be about 15 years apart in age from the youngest to the oldest with the youngest being outspoken and rebellious while the oldest is very traditional and old-fashioned. The film covers developments in each of their lives as well the relationship between them.

It does have the traits of a Jane Austin novel, a little bit like a soap opera and a typical Japanese family drama with a traditional and well-mannered flavor that reminds me of Ozu. The idea of a costume drama also comes to mind. If you are a student of Japan and Japanese film it's an important addition to your collection. Criterion has done a great job, as usual.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2012
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This is one of my favorite movies. Not just because of the beautiful scenes but of the difficulties that life has thrown to a family, how the different relations cope with the inner workings of a family in a time of great changes during the 1920's and 30's in Japan. Each of the characters has a lot of responsibilities and each has their point of view to contend with, as they try to transition from one older style of life to the new without completely casting aside the traditions of country.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2013
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It was a lovely insight into Japanese tradition. Beautiful cinematography, particularly the cherry blossom scenes. The kimonos were absolutely gorgeous. The storyline was gentle and emotional. A story well told. My first movie from this director. Will be certainly looking into other works of his.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2013
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After a friend read the book and loved it, i thought about buying the dvd for her. We both watched it this week and enjoyed every minute of it.
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on April 30, 2014
I found "The Makioka Sisters" very interesting, while my Chinese girlfriend who usually loves Japanese film dozed off frequently. What interested me was the strong sense of propriety in Japanese culture during 1938. Always aware of the rules of their society, the characters of the story were vividly realized by the actors who portrayed them. This is a melodrama which one critic considered suitable for TV, but its quality is well beyond TV, even though the dramatic intensity of some of the scenes reaches the soap opera level.

The title of the novel evokes the image of falling cherry blossoms, and still shots of cherry blossoms at the beginning of the film were beautiful. So were the scenes in the gardens, where some initial meetings with Yukiko's suitors took place. Other shots were mixed. There was a scene of a meeting at a long table, framed by the edges of the doorway, which resembled similar shots in earlier Japanese films. I was somewhat disconcerted by the use of big closeups with dialogue, where varieties of over-the-shoulder shots or more distant shots alla Polanski might have been more natural. Did Ichikawa feel a need to emulate Godard? The cliched use of B&W for past scenes was less effective because the scenes were very short, with insufficient time to establish the atmosphere of the past.

Many critics didn't like the 1980s synthesizer score, and I liked it even less. Some of the music sounded like tinny simplifications of Bach, and didn't bear repetition.

But the characters were compelling and interesting. The plot revolved around Yukiko, the traditional and lovely 3rd sister, with the story of the rebellious 4th sister Taeko providing the driving energy. She was interesting in her own right, but her stormy affairs with questionable men served to demonstrate the virtue of Yukiko's patience. This rhetorical presentation is the only justification for comparing this story with Jane Austen - I prefer to see the story in its own culture. The two husbands had interesting scenes, and so did the two older sisters, who represented a generation more concerned with maintaining the image of a family with a great reputation to protect. The contrasting personalities of the pair of older sisters framed the main contrast between the pair of younger sisters.

I might have given this film 3 1/2 stars, because of its artistic unevenness, but I really enjoyed the characters and relationships at the heart of the film, and recommend it for its loving depiction of an upper middle-class Osaka family whose domestic traumas reflected major changes in a Japan that was reluctantly beginning to part with the fragile and artificial beauty of its past.
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on September 20, 2013
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Since I love the book, I consider this movie a very good adaptation, except for some director's inserts like the possible love the brother in law feels about Yuki. The story of the four sisters is full of subtile moments. In each one you can see a diferent Japan from the most traditional to modern western life. The images a really very japanese in colours and feelings
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on July 30, 2013
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Very nice, beautiful stories, I learned a lot about the Japanese culture. I watch it several times. I will recommend it for sure.
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on November 18, 2014
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I thought the movie was nice to look at, but it was not even close to the quality of the book, which was a little disappointing.
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