More than 140 minutes long, "The Makioka Sisters" tells the story of four sisters, two of whom are married, two of whom are not. The married sisters, and their husbands, try to find suitable husbands for the others. That's it. The movie is positively puny in its ambition -- it makes "Little Women" seem like "The Amazing Colossal Women."
The movie takes place in 1938. The older of the unmarried sisters, Yukiko (Sayuri Yoshinaga), turns down a passel of offers -- her suitors are indeed yo-yos, and she's waiting for Mr. Right. The younger sister, Taeko (Yuko Kotegawa), is headstrong and independent-minded; instead of relying on the family fortune, she wants to support herself making dolls. As the movie meanders along with a pace that might charitably be called leisurely, family scandals are revealed, petty jealousies uncovered. The husband of the eldest gets transferred from Osaka to Tokyo, which causes considerable trauma among the kimono-clad quartet, who are, with the exception of the youngest, connoisseurs of tradition.
"The Makioka Sisters" relies on its small, precious beauties -- it's the cinematic equivalent of flower arranging. There is some mild satire and some pretty scenery. At its heart is a commentary on changing ways of life in Japan. O tempura! O mores!