'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.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.