Based on the memoirs of Hiro Saga, The Wandering Princess depicts the story of Ryuko, an aristocrat who, at the outset of World War II, is forced to marry Futetsu, the younger brother of the soon-to-be disposed Chinese emperor. Ryuko’s enmeshment in the Japanese occupation of Manchuria realizes with startling depth Tanaka's ambition to relate a historical saga from a critical female perspective.
“Perhaps because she lived so much of her life in the movies, she was drawn, as a director, to the innately cinematic effects of everyday spaces and actions. She liked to place her camera outside the threshold of a room, so that the sliding shoji screens of Japanese homes functioned like wipes, gracefully revealing or concealing the scene within.”
Imogen Sara Smith1
“The arranged marriage of Ryuuko and Puzhe in 1937 is swiftly decided through short meetings between the Manchurian court and Ryuuko’s family. In these scenes, Tanaka makes use of the widescreen format to convey the large number of people who have a say in the matter. Arranged marriages frequently appear in Tanaka’s films as a major obstacle to independence, particularly because they usually involve coercion rather than outright force and therefore tacitly pressure the woman to deny herself. In The Wandering Princess, Ryuuko’s family assures her that she can turn down the offer. But the weight of the proposal discourages her from saying no. Once married, she becomes a representative of Japan, but despite her raised visibility she continues to be a non-participant with little political power.
The resulting marriage is a diplomatic obligation to improve Sino-Japanese relations, a relationship that progresses as political theater. Like an actress shuttled from one production to another, Ryuuko must play her part for an international audience. She changes from Japanese to Chinese dress, and switches between Japanese and Mandarin when moving in and out of the home.”