hasn’t quite reached the remarkable productivity of the late centenarian director
Manoel de Oliveira, but octogenarian Yoji Yamada’s dependability is still
pretty impressive. The Japanese filmmaker is still on a film per year schedule.
He is clearly prolific, having helmed all but two of the ten thousand Tora-san
films. Yamada even had the chutzpah to kind of-sort of remake Tokyo Story. Yamada continues to tip his
hat towards Ozu’s masterpiece, but maintains a lightly comedic tone throughout What a Wonderful Family (trailer here), which screens
during the 2016 New York Asian Film Festival.
you were married to the gassy and slovenly Shuzo Hirata, you would probably
want to divorce him too, so we can hardly blame the elegant Tomiko Hirata for
finally saying enough is enough. Still, she might have better prepared him for
the divorce papers she essentially blindsides him with. Old man Shuzo reacts by
playing the victim, using his wife’s supposed abandonment to justify more
boozing and grouchy grandpa behavior.
the rest of the household takes the potential divorce deathly seriously. Like
old school shomin-gekis, the Hiratas are a large household—and possibly getting
larger, but also maybe smaller. The eldest son Konosuke shares the house with
his parents, his patient wife Fumie, their two bratty kids, and his younger
brother Shota. Technically, Konosuke’s sister Shigeko Kanai moved out to live
with her underwhelming husband Taizo, but it seems like they are always working
out their marital problems in the Hiratas’ house. Of all days, Shota brings his
fiancée Noriko Mamiya (note the name) to meet the family exactly when Fumie
calls a meeting to discuss the proposed divorce. However, when things get chaotic,
they will be happy to have the level-headed nurse there.
Wonderful acknowledges such great
big family living arrangements are becoming increasingly uncommon in today’s
Japan, but Yamada makes the Ozuian formula work in a contemporary context. He
also brings back the cast of Tokyo Family,
his Tokyo Story riff-reboot, like a repertory
company, with Yu Aoi reprising the role of Mamiya. Stepping into Setsuko Hara’s
shoes is a daunting proposition, but she is utterly charming and exquisitely
sensitive as the modern day Noriko.
Hashizume’s patriarch is a real handful, in a broadly comedic sort of way, but
he shows a delicate touch in his big pay-off scene. Kazuko Yoshiyuki is a
consistently warm, humanistic presence as Tomiko, while Satoshi Tsumabuki is
surprisingly engaging as the somewhat socially awkward Shota. Technically, she
is not family (except maybe to old Shuzo), but the classy Jun Fubuki really
lights up the film as Kayo, the mature hostess of the old man’s favorite bar.
There is some shtickiness here and there, but
when the Hiratas come together as a family, it really is touching. Yamada hits
the right notes and keeps the vibe sweetly nostalgic, so when Gramps consoles
himself with Tokyo Story, the film
somehow manages to avoid unflattering comparisons. (Still, nothing truly
compares to Ozu’s Noriko
masterpieces). Recommended for general audiences who can appreciate its gentle
old fashionedness, What a Wonderful
Family screens tomorrow (6/26) at the Walter Reade, as part of this year’s NYAFF.
Labels: Japanese Cinema, NYAFF '16, Yoji Yamada, Yu Aoi