A Taxing Woman (1987)

Genres - Comedy  |   Sub-Genres - Comedy of Manners, Romantic Comedy, Satire  |   Run Time - 127 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Juzo Itami's follow-up to his popular satires The Funeral and Tampopo tops both of those films with a wildly convoluted story and biting social observations. At the opening, the English-language version informs the viewer of Japan's astronomical tax rates and how Japanese at all class levels have made a national sport out of cheating on those taxes. A Taxing Woman is part police procedural, part social comedy, with a generous helping of feminism tossed in. A woman is a rarity in the Japanese tax service, and the film cleverly makes this woman one part awkward social creature and one part sincerely dedicated professional. (That she's a single mother is only obliquely dealt with.) Nobuko Miyamoto is brilliant in keeping those contrasting traits in balance; she never comes off as cloyingly confused, nor is she irritatingly by-the-book. Her quarry, the owner of a chain of "adult" hotels, is played by Tsutomu Yamazaki, her co-star in The Funeral, as a suave but dangerous man who can't help but admire his persistent adversary. Itami stages many scenes in confined spaces: the tax offices, choked with cigarette smoke and the chattering of agents working the phones; the villain's cluttered house, with secret compartments and rooms to conceal his activities; and the hotel rooms, with their crumpled sheets and messy bathrooms. He brilliantly orchestrates the relationships among the characters to suggest the increasing admiration all of the male characters come to feel toward the taxing woman.