Kon Ichikawa’s The Makioka Sisters is based on one of the classics of Japanese literature by the celebrated writer Junichiro Tanizaki. This is a rambling family epic along the lines of Booth Tarkington’s The Magnificent Ambersons and John Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga. It makes for an elegant view of life in Japan a half-century ago.
A wealthy Osaka family, the Makiokas, owe their social standing to their recently deceased father. He has four daughters, two of them now married. The oldest, Tsuruko, is the legal heir, but of nothing to speak of save the home. The second oldest, Sachiko, is married to a salesman in a department store. It’s at their modest home that the two younger sisters, Yukiko and Taeko, still unmarried, prefer to live.
The husband of Sachiko falls in love with the gentle, retiring Yukiko. Eventually, however, Yukiko finds a suitor she likes. But that, too, is complicated by the youngest falling in love with a poor and lowly bartender.
There is rich opportunity for ensemble acting – and it’s here to perfection in Ichikawa’s hands. Another aspect is the show of costumes, the compositional images of interiors of homes, and the catalog of emotions associated with Japanese manners – in other words, a certain reflection of a particular time and place in a not too distant past.