The movie is a punctilious satire of the situation of tax evasions in Japan, which is illustratedthrough the cat and mouse game between Hideo Murota (Tsutomu Yamazaki), the sleazeball tax invader and his arch nemesis, Ryoko Itakura (Nobuko Miyamoto), the tenacious tax investigator who decides to launch a relentless one-woman campaign to bring him to justice. While the subject of tax evasion always raises the eyebrows of many people, “A Taxing Woman” is somewhat grey about the division between good and bad. In Japan, both corporate and personal taxes are astronomical, which leads us to wonder whether the presumed heroes of the movie, Ryoko and her colleagues, have the right to do what they are doing. As put forward by one of Ryoko’s targets, a low-key proprietor who was taxed 67% of her income, that act should be deemed a crime and taxmen are no better than bloodsuckers. Taking that into consideration, Juzo Itami raises the question: Is it ever justifiable for people to try to shelter their wealth
Writer/director Juzo Itami proves to be very knowledgeable on the heated issue of tax cheating, and enlightens the otherwise boring subject with his trademark wicked humor. Various schemes that people undertake to hold onto taxable income (for example, Hideo’s mistress tries to hide the signature seals in lipstick tubes) and the equally insane techniques employed by tax investigators to catch their victims (digging huge bags of trash to find documents is just one of the many hilarious scenes) are sure to pull you into the plot. However, Itami’s detailed and precise narrative soon falls flat and there are many stretches when nothing much seems to happen. His decision to prolong a cat and mouth farce over two hours is doomed to relegate it to a meandering and shapeless film, no matter how much sharp wit he can channel into the film.
Character development doesn’t help the film much either. Aside from Yamazaki, who is wisecrackingly funny as a gimpy millionaire and also likeable as an incompetent father and a fool for love, the rest of the cast just fail to register. Miyamoto doesn’t have much to offer in the role of a dedicated tax investigator who obsesses with her duties to the point of annoyance. Combining that weakness with a deceptively simple plot setup, “A Taxing Woman” lacks in depth and becomes more like a series of disconnected observations.
“A Taxing Woman” is far from being a pinnacle in Itami’s career, yet there are reasons to see the movie anyway. Its portrait of everyday Japanese life and suspenseful jazz soundtrack are just irresistible. It also gives you the feeling of being able to glimpse behind the wall of so many closed worlds, from the multimillionaire’s exclusive world to the inner workings of the banks and tax department. After all, I still find the two hours of my life has been well spent.