Having sat through a weekend of the Japanese Film Festival so far, The Sting of Death got an unceremoniously high number of walk outs. I'm somewhat curious about how this movie got selected to fit into the theme of this year's festival of true.romance, because it really looked a little out of place, or anti-themed, with its grappling on the stark emotions of betrayal and lack of trust.
The movie opens, and for the next 15 minutes, we see a couple in conversation, but their body language is awkward. We see a lady, but we hear a man in the room too, and while both are obviously talking to each other, they do not have the other in their line of sight. As the camera reveals a little more, we see the house in a little disarray, suggesting a fight of sorts taking place earlier. As they go further in their conversation, we slowly realize that here's a woman who has confronted her husband on his infidelity, and finding the truth a bitter pill that is hard to swallow.
With escalating quarrels and fights getting more violent, it's always the case that the children will be the ones who suffer. Toshio (Ittoku Kishibe) and Miho's (Keiko Matsuzaka) kids know what is happening (yes, kids actually know), and are always found to be torn between the parents. But I guess despite their differences, they have probably decided to stick to each other for the sake of their children, while working out the demons between them. Ironing out the problems posed by infidelity is tricky, because it involves re-establishing trust which had been broken before, and there is no guarantee that it won't be broken again. And it is precisely this insecurity that Miho fails to address, despite constant assurances by her husband.
On that premise alone, The Sting of Death held promise. We tear out our hair together with Miho as she begins her descent, when all things appear fine, she'll rake up something about the past to ask Toshio, knowing very well that whatever answer she'll get, will hurt her deep down. Until Toshio refuses to play the game, and finds life getting a lot tougher, and Miho a lot more difficult to handle.
Technically, this was a good film, with its minimalist sound providing avenues for other more subtle noises to come through, like the dripping tap which drives you nuts with its constant "drip... drip... drip". But it's not an easy film to sit through, not only because of its content repetitive material and scenes which wash-rinse-repeats Miho doubting Toshio, questioning him, scenes of abuse and challenge, reconciliation, then repeat, but also because it moves so slowly, if at all. Somehow I tend to believe that my reliance on the subtitles didn't manage to bring out the intricate dialogue between the spouses, especially when they start to mince their words and lace them with sarcasm.
Offhand I can't recall a movie that dealt with the issue of infidelity within a marriage more sharply than this, and by bringing home this point, this film has earned its badge of merit. Reminder: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and all parties suffer through moments of folly.