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If recent WWII-themed cinema made you think illiterate SS concentration camp guards and counterfeiters-with-hearts-of-gold had laid claim to all available period misery, turns out there’s enough left over for the wives of Japanese thought criminals. As Pearl Harbor approaches, Kayo Nogami, ak “Kabei” (Sayuri Yoshinaga), struggles to raise two daughters after her husband Shigero (Mitsugoro Bando), a radical professor in Tokyo, is jailed for Communist sympathies. Though Kabei finds support from her husband’s clumsy student (Tadanobu Asano) and her bawdy brother (Tsurube Shofukutei), the Empire of the Sun unravels and a wave of tedious, predictable pathos breaks, leaving every character dead, dying, or filled with regret. Entering the fifth decade of his film career, writer/director Yoji Yamada swipes at epic grandeur in his overlong adaptation of Teruyo Nogami’s autobiographical novel but leaves his audience exhausted. Though ostensibly narrated by Kabei’s youngest daughter, the film lacks a coherent voice and narrative center, and its attempts at romance and comedy (Will Kabei’s gold-toothed brother say something inappropriate? Will Kabei have an affair with her husband’s amanuensis?) are telegraphed moves by thinly-drawn characters. Kabei is no tearjerker—it’s a film that unreasonably demands tears.
Thursday at 8:30 p.m. Also at 9 p.m. on Friday, April 24. Both showings at the Avalon.