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In 1945, Japan surrendered to the United States and the Second World War was over. Right? Wrong. For eighty percent of the Japanese community in Brazil, Japan had won the war and defeat was nothing more than American propaganda. The few immigrants that accepted the truth were persecuted. Some were hunted down and assassinated - by their own countrymen - causing the start of a new, private war. Dirty Hearts is a thriller and love story told by the wife of one of the fanatics dedicated to preach Japanese victory. Little by little, she watches her husband, a hard-working immigrant, become an assassin and their love story fade away. Written by
In certain parts of modern-day Japan, there are state primary schools where the majority language is Portuguese. The historical reasons for this go back to large-scale immigration to Brazil from Japan at the beginning of the 20th century. That Japanese diaspora were cleaved in two at the end of WWII, with many fanatically believing that Japan had won the war, leading to murderous internecine strife with those who accepted the truth of Japan's defeat, surrender, and the Emperor refuting his divinity. It is a fascinating tale, little known, and deserves to have a great film made about it. Unfortunately, this is not that film.
A raft of great Japanese actors fail to lift this flat, plodding narrative that has a made-for-TV aesthetic. Takako Tokiwa is the ostensible protagonist, a loving wife who watches her husband descend into a killer. Except 'descend' is not the right word, as a switch seems simply to be flicked. And the wife's response is, bizarrely, to take vengeance on chickens. Tsuyoshi Ihara never really evokes anguish or guilt. Eiji Okuda as the militarist driving force is slightly more plausible. But Kimiko Yo, who since Departures has hardly put a foot wrong, squeals and mugs her was through this in embarrassing fashion.
The direction never really lets the story grow. Ihara's moment when he realises his own gullibility comes and goes without pause. The break-up of the marriage largely takes place without the husband and wife sharing the same frame. The Brazilians seem to inhabit the town and then disappear completely as convenience for the scene dictates. The sense of the period, of Brazil, is absent, and any contextualization of why these immigrants are there, and how torn they might be between motherland and adopted homeland, is missing.
Some tales are so fascinating it is tempting to think they can tell their own story. But they can't, and the writers and directors on this project might want to bear that in mind.
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