NYAFF Review: PALE MOON Shows The Damage An Under-appreciated Housewife Can Do To A Bank

Embezzling money from a bank always works out well. Always.

Rika Umezawa (Rie Miyazawa) needs to live a little. She has just started working at a bank after being a housewife her entire life, and she’s still getting used to the new life. Her husband works with a company in Hong Kong and is about as boring a man as you can imagine, but she doesn’t seem happy with or without him. It may be because she’s trying to get used to dealing with the world of the workplace, which is still condescending towards her. She never smiles and seems particularly dour and unhappy from the first frame we see her, yet is successful at work, getting clients no one else is able to land.

Her life changes one day when she runs into the grandson of one of her elderly clients, who gives her the side-eye and then follows her for a bit on the train the next time they meet. The attraction is immediately apparent, and one thing leads to another and she’s having an affair with a college boy. The kid’s grandfather is really well off but he doesn’t give his kids any of his money, and the poor boy laments not being able to afford the next year of college.

Well Rika can’t have that, can she?

She does work at a bank, after all… What starts out as a little theft to ensure he can stay in college becomes a massive scam as soon Rika is embezzling tens of thousands of Yen from the bank at a time, taking her young lover to expensive hotels and pampering him, and herself, in ways she never ever was before. It gets worse when her husband comes home one day to tell her that they’re going to move to Hong Kong because a new position opened up there, and she refuses.

At the job suspicions arise over the activity but some of the employees are up to their own tricks as well, and Rika shows a surprising amount of tact and strategy in her seemingly impulsive crime. But this is one of those wonderful stories where you’re just waiting for the shoe to drop. This is a protagonist that simply can’t stop herself from digging that hole deeper and deeper and you just wonder when she’ll realize that she can’t get out.

Is Rika only truly alive when she’s doing bad things? The film suggests as such. While working in the office and preparing food at home for her husband she is surrounded by a bland, muted color palette, corporate and unfeeling. It’s only when she’s cheating and stealing that the colors open up and the film becomes more alive. It’s further compounded by a more matronly (and senior) woman at the bank who works as an example of who she can become. She can be successful too, but is it at the cost of her individuality?

In The Kirishima Thing director Daihachi Yoshida managed an insightful look into the social standings of a Japanese high school, and his focus shift towards women in the workplace in Pale Moon is just as effective.