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TV REVIEW : Bridging East, West in 'Long Shadows'

August 24, 1994|RAY LOYND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An unusual woman's story, "Long Shadows" on one level is the bicultural odyssey of an American ambassador's Japanese wife coping with life on a world stage.

But on a deeper level it's a metaphor for fragile 20th-Century East-West relations, personified through the true story of the marriage of U.S. Ambassador to Japan Edwin Reischauer and his shy, aristocratic, Japanese wife, Haru.

At first reticent and withdrawn, Haru's startling passage into a strong, thoroughly modern woman is the essence of this "American Playhouse" production. Shot in California and Japan and spanning Haru's life from 1930s Japan to 1990 America, this is an epic journey told in a series of flashbacks as the 75-year-old, newly widowed Haru prepares to have her husband's ashes strewn over the oceanfront of their La Jolla home.

Haru is played by Fumi Dan, little known here but a popular actress in Japan, and Matt Frewer portrays the scholarly husband-ambassador and JFK appointee who himself was born and reared in Japan.

The movie's singular flaw is its flashbulb-popping, sound-bite style. The effect may be entertaining but it also produces a fusillade of short, fractured scenes that don't entirely disguise the heroine's largely interior, as opposed to theatrically florid, adventure.

But patience is rewarded by fireworks unexpectedly subtle and violent. Among the sparks: a painful misalliance between Haru and her three unhappy American stepchildren, an endearing effort by Haru to prepare a Thanksgiving dinner by emulating the dinner table images off a classic Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post Thanksgiving cover, and a stylistically surreal assassination attempt on Reischauer's life by a radical Japanese student.

At her most absorbing, Haru, as American as she is Japanese, fights to integrate two disparate cultures on her back. Director Sheldon Larry and writer Milan Stitt capture the flowering of a woman who comes not only to transcend her own nationality but also her dutiful identity as the ambassador's wife, or "long shadow."

* "Long Shadows" airs at 9 tonight on KCET-TV Channel 28.

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