Riyo, a young Japanese girl longs for a fresh start, after both of her parents die. The year is 1918, and her aunt contacts a match maker. Riyo, becomes a picture bride, a part of the custom of matching a husband and wife based on photos and letters. The beautiful Riyo, a shy, gentle girl, likes the look of her match, the handsome Mitsuji, so she embarks for Hawaii, where she will join her husband working in sugar cane fields.
Once she lands, she is shocked to discover that the photo she was sent was very dated. Mitsuji is, in fact, the ripe age of forty-three years, old enough to be Riyo’s father and then some. She immediately wants to head straight back to Japan. Things are very different in this strange land. The Japanese word for flower is also the Hawaiian word for work.
Based on real-life histories of actual picture brides, this beautiful film combines the harsh realities and tragedies of the field worker’s way of life with the lyrical beauty of the loves and lives of the community. It is easy to fall into the film, and even the hint of the supernatural will have you accepting it all, much the way Riyo eventually comes to see beyond first impressions to a husband who grows orchids in a can and feebly attempts to win over his child bride with bad haiku.
Put together with a budget of only $1 million, a paltry sum in today’s films, Picture Bride looks as exotic and beautiful as the the two main actresses, Youki Kudoh as Riyo, and Tamlyn Tomita, of “The Joy Luck Club,” as Riyo’s friend and mentor.
The film is rated PG 13, and parents should be cautioned that there is partial nudity and some sexual situations as well as at least one scary moment of tragedy.