Male-ordered bride

Cristina Franzi

This week the Cultural Film and Lecture Series wraps up the fall semester line-up with “Picture Bride.” A period piece, circa 1918, the film portrays events in the life of an orphaned teenager named Riyo, who journeys from Japan to Hawaii in order to marry a man whom she has never met. Riyo is a timid yet feisty girl who is constantly harangued by her aunt to go to a matchmaker so that she can snare a husband. Riyo eventually acquiesces and is matched up with a Japanese man working in a sugar cane field in Hawaii. While Riyo is not crazy about being a mail-order bride, she changes her mind when she sees her intended’s photo.

The picture shows a handsome young man and it’s accompanied by a romantic haiku poem, leading Riyo to go ahead with the match. Unfortunately, when she arrives in Hawaii, Riyo discovers the photograph was an old one, and her husband-to-be is really old enough to be her father. This depressing news is only a taste of the dreary life that follows. The remainder of the film shows how this odd couple’s marriage unfolds and how they stay together, despite trying conditions.

“Picture Bride” details a common occurrence which took place between 1908 and 1924. During this time over 20,000 women traveled from Japan to Hawaii in order to marry Japanese laborers there. Due to the lack of women in Hawaii during this era, these men could not find wives through any other means, and so the mail-order bride phenomenon took off. This practice would eventually come to a halt when the U.S. Immigration Act of 1924 was passed, forbidding almost all Asians from coming into the United States. Fortunately though, by 1930, almost 10,000 offspring were produced by the “picture brides” and their spouses, which accounts for the heavy Asian presence in Hawaii today.

This film was co-written and directed by Kayo Hatto, whose grandmothers inspired the creation of the main female characters in this film. Though the “picture bride” occurrence did not take place in Hatto’s own family history, she does use some real-life details from her grandmother’s lives in the narrative. In addition, Hatto worked closely with several historians and scholars in order to produce a piece that is truly authentic. Thus, “Picture Bride” differs from other movies and television shows set in Hawaii at the same time that, according to Hatto, do not portray events accurately.

The CFS will screen “Picture Bride,” its final offering of the semester, four times in the Connelly Center Cinema: Saturday Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., Sunday Dec. 7 at 3:30 and 7 p.m., and Monday Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. Admission is $3.00 for students with I.D. and $4.00 for all others. The Monday viewing will feature guest speaker Masako Hamada, who will provide an introduction to the film, as well as leading a discussion afterwards. Dr. Hamada, who teaches Japanese in Villanova’s Modern Language Department, is the coordinator of the university’s Japanese Studies Program.