The Sting of Death (1990) [RADIANCE FILMS LIMITED EDITION] 

Available on Blu-ray from Radiance Films 

A couple going through the possible end of their marriage goes back and forth arguing, crying, and treating each other less than ideally in 1950s Japan. Tradition dictates some of what they must do while jealousy, treason, and other issues mix into things, pushing them to isolation and emotional blackmail. 

Written by Kôhei Oguri and Toshio Shimao with Kôhei Oguri directing, this film takes slow burn and pushes it beyond the limits of the bearable. The film here is one meant to make the viewer feel for the characters, but also with them. While this may have worked in 1990 and may still work on some audience members, it came off on this viewing and viewer as disagreeable and pushing the limits of a mentally abusive and disjointed relationship. While, yes, this is the point here, it doesn’t help make the film more interesting that the characters have nothing positive going on and they are almost always dislikable. The two leads make you want to turn the film off more than once between the coldness, the sappiness of some scenes, and the annoying toxicity of their marriage. Yes, the husband cheated, and divorce was not really a thing back in the 1950s, the absolute negativity of everything eventually weighs the film down far below where it can be saved or where it can salvage the little bit of attention the viewer might have had.  

The cast here works in that they give the performances expected of them for the script in hand and directions given. Both leads, Keiko Matsuzaka and Ittoku Kishibe, give performances that lead to there being nothing about their characters the audience can care about. This may have been by design, but it becomes bland after a while. The acting these two do, on that front, works. The two rays of somewhat sunshine here are the two kids of are downright adorable even when they are sad or being naughty, so there is that for those who don’t engage with rock bottom depression well.  

The look of the film here very much fits the mood. Things are gloomy, grey, beige, bland. The decor is on point and the wardrobe seems on point as well, but everything is so drab. The only bit of color remembered after the film ends is the red cardigan the mistress wears at one point. There isn’t much color which had to be a purposeful choice here. Same can be assumed of the cinematography by Shôhei Andô is both beautiful and incredibly detached at times. The work here is cold and calculated, letting the colors and characters set the mood most of the time. There is definitely an art here and it works in letting the film be, letting it create everything while having the images and how they are filmed just serve the story and nothing more. 

The Sting of Death is one of those films that will appeal to fans of melancholy cinema, those who love the greyness of it, the depression it can create. Those who tend to want to see something good, anything good, this is a hard watch. And this may be the point here.  

As for this new release by Radiance Films, it’s a solid one. It looks fantastic with new art and packaging made to let this art be enjoyed. It has a booklet for those who want more interviews they can read and the extras on the disc itself have an interview with Hideki Maeda, a film scholar interviewed in 2023, who is greatly knowledgeable and has a lot to teach. Also included on the disc is a documentary that features folks such as Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Kohei Oguri from 2011 about the 1990s Japanese film renaissance.