Film Friday: Picture Bride

Picture BridePicture Bride is a lyrical movie about a Hawaii seldom seen on film — the endless fields of sugar cane plantations that covered vast tracts of land in the 19th and early 20th century.

Riyo (Youki Kudoh), a young Japanese woman, doesn’t know what she will do now that her father has died and left her an orphan. She learns that her aunt has found her a husband through a matchmaker.

Riyo is to become a picture bride, marrying a sugar cane worker in far-off Hawaii. From 1907 to 1924, more than 20,000 Japanese, Okinawan and Korean women went to Hawaii to marry men of their own nationality. They knew each other only through their letters and photos.

Riyo’s orderly, traditional Japan is filmed in black and white. I love this image of her clutching the letter that will lead to a new life, excited about the prospect of marriage, yet frightened about leaving all she knows behind. She is comforted by the picture of her husband-to-be, Matsuji (Akira Takayama), a handsome, serious young face.

Letter in picture bride

The film segues to color in Hawaii, where Riyo experiences her first shock of how strange this new world will be. She steps off the boat with several other picture brides, but doesn’t see the man from her photograph. Instead, a much older Matsuji meets her at the dock, confessing that he sent a picture of his younger self.

This isn’t the life Riyo expected, marrying a middle-aged husband and working long hours in the hot, endless cane fields. But in meeting these challenges, Riyo becomes a strong young woman, who is very different from the sheltered girl she was in Japan.

For a visually stunning film, a poignant and believable character study, and a story where letters have the power to change lives, Picture Bride is a must-see film.

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