'The Makioka Sisters': The Art of Balancing Personal Aspirations with Familial Obligations

This understated film follows the spats and tensions in the Makioka family as they try to find husbands for the two remaining single sisters.

The Makioka Sisters

Director: Kon Ichikawa
Cast: Keiko Kishi, Yoshiko Sakuma, Sayuri Yoshinaga, Yuko Kotewaga
Distributor: Criterion
Rated: Not Rated
Release date: 2011-06-14

There are two stories to be told in The Makioka Sisters. The route opted for is a family drama centered on four sisters: two already married, two in search of husbands appropriate to their family’s status. The story hidden in the background, alluded to but ultimately dropped, is the Makioka family’s slow demise from prosperity and prestige to poverty.

The novel on which the film is based tells both these stories. Ichikawa, however, decided to put almost sole emphasis on the sisters’ relationship. This makes Makioka Sisters an understated film: less about dramatic changes in fortune than it is about constant but never overwhelming family tensions.

The lost side of Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel remains only in the fight that occurs throughout the film between familial responsibility and modernization. Taeko, the youngest of the four sisters, wants to become a doll-maker even though Tsuruko, the eldest sister, tells her that Makiokas are not working girls. She gets involved with men far below her family’s social stature. She talks back to her elders when they tell her these youthful desires will have to be put aside for the sake of the family. But Taeko is also the one who holds a grudge against Tatsuo, Tsuruko’s husband, for selling her father’s symbolically important but financially floundering business.

As a result, Taeko is probably the most dramatically interesting character in the film. She contrasts directly to the slightly older Yukiko, who is center of most of the film’s plot points as she meets and dismisses one suitor after another. Quiet and subdued, she is the least defined and most mysterious of the sisters. She occasionally flirts with what would be unacceptable actions for her family, and seems to follow along with the charade of finding a suitor while slyly subverting it. But these characteristics are only hinted at in momentary shots and glances. On the surface, Yukiko is just as much if not more committed to tradition than any of the sisters.

The film does not succeed on the back of any one character, though. After witnessing family spats, gossip, and tantrums, the pleasant surprise at the end of the film is how affecting the fate of the family is as a whole. Focusing on the breakdown of a family’s fortune would have been easily engaging, but the film Ichikawa chose to make is just as special for the modesty of its subject. Makioka Sisters is about four siblings trying to balance their unique aspirations and personalities with their responsibilities and love for each other as family. What counts ultimately is not the story Makioka Sisters chose not to tell, but this particular one it so skillfully unwraps for its audience.

Makioka Sisters is a deserving addition to the Criterion collection, but in terms of extras is far from that company’s best outing. Besides an interesting essay by Adie Bock, all we get is the film’s theatrical trailer. Thankfully, the movie needs little support.





Dancing in the Street: Our 25 Favorite Motown Singles

Detroit's Motown Records will forever be important as both a hit factory and an African American-owned label that achieved massive mainstream success and influence. We select our 25 favorite singles from the "Sound of Young America".


The Durutti Column's 'Vini Reilly' Is the Post-Punk's Band's Definitive Statement

Mancunian guitarist/texturalist Vini Reilly parlayed the momentum from his famous Morrissey collaboration into an essential, definitive statement for the Durutti Column.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

What Will Come? COVID-19 and the Politics of Economic Depression

The financial crash of 2008-2010 reemphasized that traumatic economic shifts drive political change, so what might we imagine — or fear — will emerge from the COVID-19 depression?


Datura4 Take Us Down the "West Coast Highway Cosmic" (premiere)

Australia's Datura4 deliver a highway anthem for a new generation with "West Coast Highway Cosmic". Take a trip without leaving the couch.


Teddy Thompson Sings About Love on 'Heartbreaker Please'

Teddy Thompson's Heartbreaker Please raises one's spirits by accepting the end as a new beginning. He's re-joining the world and out looking for love.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Little Protests Everywhere

Wherever you are, let's invite our neighbors not to look away from police violence against African Americans and others. Let's encourage them not to forget about George Floyd and so many before him.


Carey Mercer's New Band Soft Plastics Score Big with Debut '5 Dreams'

Two years after Frog Eyes dissolved, Carey Mercer is back with a new band, Soft Plastics. 5 Dreams and Mercer's surreal sense of incongruity should be welcomed with open arms and open ears.


Sondre Lerche Rewards 'Patience' with Clever and Sophisticated Indie Pop

Patience joins its predecessors, Please and Pleasure, to form a loose trilogy that stands as the finest work of Sondre Lerche's career.


Ruben Fleischer's 'Venom' Has No Bite

Ruben Fleischer's toothless antihero film, Venom is like a blockbuster from 15 years earlier: one-dimensional, loose plot, inconsistent tone, and packaged in the least-offensive, most mass appeal way possible. Sigh.


Cordelia Strube's 'Misconduct of the Heart' Palpitates with Dysfunction

Cordelia Strube's 11th novel, Misconduct of the Heart, depicts trauma survivors in a form that's compelling but difficult to digest.


Reaching For the Vibe: Sonic Boom Fears for the Planet on 'All Things Being Equal'

Sonic Boom is Peter Kember, a veteran of 1980s indie space rockers Spacemen 3, as well as Spectrum, E.A.R., and a whole bunch of other fascinating stuff. On his first solo album in 30 years, he urges us all to take our foot off the gas pedal.


Old British Films, Boring? Pshaw!

The passage of time tends to make old films more interesting, such as these seven films of the late '40s and '50s from British directors John Boulting, Carol Reed, David Lean, Anthony Kimmins, Charles Frend, Guy Hamilton, and Leslie Norman.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.