She May Be, But The Movie Isn’t – A Taxing Woman (1987)

One of my all-time favorite films is 1985’s Tampopo directed by Juzo Itami and starring his wife Nobuko Miyamoto which I have written about here and here.

In 1987 the pair teamed again for a new movie, A Taxing Woman. Now one might think that having taken on the task of turning the search for the perfect bowl of ramen into a spahetti-western style comedy might be enough of a challenge for any director, but for his next film Itami set himself an even harder task: making tax inspecting and collection interesting.

A Taxing Woman is set during Japan’s economic bubble of the 1980s, when the post-war economic recovery of the 1950s had grown into a time of rampant speculation and indulgence, and when real estate, especially, was seen as an extremely easy way to make money – especially for the unscrupulous.

One problem, however, for those who were at the time raking in money hand over fist was how to hold on to it. More specifically to the point of the movie, how to hide it from the tax bureau so that they would not take their share of it.

That’s the constant problem for the “villain” of the film, Hideki Gondo, portrayed by Tsutomu Yamazaki. Through various schemes and dealings he has made millions of yen, but he is also constantly struggling to figure out new ways to hide his illicit gains from the tax collectors.

Enter Ryoko Itakua (Miyamoto), an up-and-coming tax inspector who has made a name for herself not only as dogged in her pursuit of those upon whom she has set her sights, but as possessing a true intuition for unraveling the schemes of those who try to evade her and the law.

Thus, Itami sets up the movie as a cat and mouse game between Itakua and Gondo where it seems that despite her best efforts the real estate baron is constantly outwitting her. However, if you’re expecting some sedate Columbo style “Oh, just one more thing” back and forth, then you have forgotten which director we’re dealing with here.

Just as he did in Tampopo, Itami ups the stakes with gangsters, violence and sexuality. It may seem an odd combination for what could be a fairly pedestrian film about tax fraud, but “pedestrian” is never a word that can be used to describe Itami’s work.

Ultimately, I have to admit that A Taxing Woman doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor, but that would be a high bar to reach by any standard. Nonetheless, it is definitely entertaining and certainly leaves me looking forward to exploring more of Itami’s films.

Here’s your trailer – though I should throw up a NSFW warning:

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