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A taxing woman returns in Juzo Itami's savage satire

Tearsheets: John Rich, Coolidge Corner

Suggested headline: A taxing woman returns in Juzo Itami's savage satire




Written and directed by Juzo Itami.

Starring Nobuko Miyamoto and

Rentaro Mikuni.

Opens Friday at the Coolidge Corner.


HOLLYWOOD KEEPS CHURNING out so much garbage in the guise of sequels that one shudders to hear that a sequel of a favored film has been made. However, A Taxing Woman 2 is a film that transcends the usual rules. More biting in its satire, the sequel is not only better than the original, it is also, quite simply, the best film Japanese director Juzo Itami has made in his career.

In A Taxing Woman (1987), Itami introduced the world to Ryoko Itakura, a female tax inspector who begins by chasing small-time tax cheats and ends up unraveling the complex financial dealings of some wily businessmen. It was, in retrospect, a mild-mannered, witty film that poked fun at the Japanese penchant for tax evasion.

In the sequel, Itami gives Ryoko (played by his wife of nineteen years, Nobuko Miyamoto) and her colleagues much bigger game to hunt: a fundamentalist religious order named Heaven's Path -- led by Chief Elder Teppei Onizawa (Rentaro Mikuni). Onizawa is, in reality, an influence peddler who uses his talents to evict tenants from buildings so that new office towers can be built. One thing leads to another, and soon the scandal extends its reach to major banks, corporations, and even the Japanese Diet (House of Parliament).

If a plot spanning religion, taxes, corporate finance, bribery, and politics seems too fantastic to be believed, one only need remember that the recent Recruit bribery scandal was so pervasive that it toppled the administration of Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita. Itami's previous films have shown that his greatest gift is probing contemporary Japanese social realities. That Itami has done so in this film is confirmed by the fact that the film broke all Japanese box office records when it was released in February 1988, well before the Recruit scandal broke.

Itami's debut as film director in 1984 with The Funeral Ososhiki ("The Funeral") raised hopes that a brilliant new satirist was entering Japanese cinema. Because A Taxing Woman 2 does much to fulfill and build on the promise of that earlier film, Itami is now well on his way to securing his reputation as a major figure of Japanese cinema. Film audiences may have to wait until Itami's next film (a comedy about communication set in both Japan and the United States) for a truly genuine masterpiece of international cinema, but for now, A Taxing Woman 2 provides a highly welcome respite from this summer's seemingly endless flood of mindless Hollywood sequels.