cinema has brought us gracefully humanistic masterworks of domestic drama from the
like of Yasujiro Ozu, Yasujiro Shimazu, and Yoji Yamada. This is not one of
them. The Toshio Suzuoka and his family are not exactly happy, but they are
essentially in a state of equilibrium until the arrival of an associate from
his past in Kôji Fukada’s Harmonium (trailer here), which
screens as part of this year’s Film Comment Selects.
all honesty, Suzuoka is not an especially loving husband or father, but he
provides well enough with his garage-based metal-working shop. In fact,
business is brisk enough, he can hallway justify bringing on Kusataro Yasaka as
his assistant. Unbeknownst to his wife Akie, Suzuoka was the accomplice Yasaka
never named for his role in the murder he has just finished serving a prison
sentence for. Obviously, Suzuoka is acting out of guilt, but his wife and
daughter Hotaru take a genuine liking to the new member of the household, even
when Yasaka partially confides in Akie (diplomatically leaving out her husband
first, Harmonium seems to follow the
general trajectory of Down and Out in
Beverly Hills, with Akie fighting to deny her sexual attraction to Yasaka,
and ten-year-ish Hotaru looking up to him as a supplemental parent-figure
(especially when he starts giving her lessons on the titular pump organ).
However, the film takes a shockingly disturbing turn late in the second act
that frankly might be too much for many viewers.
the effects of the now missing Yasaka’s actions will remain ever present for
his former employers. Yet, fate takes an almost Biblical turn when the grown
son Yasaka never knew is unknowingly hired by Suzuoka to succeed him.
Harmonium is a taut,
claustrophobic film, but it never observes traditional thriller conventions. In
fact, it has a pronounced habit of zagging whenever you expect it to zig. Although
certainly not a genre film per se, it is still something of a domestic horror
story. In many ways, it compares quite directly with Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata.
four starting principals give impressively assured, stringently restrained
performances, but it is especially harrowing to see Mariko Tsutsui go slightly,
but not completely nuts as Akie Suzuoka. It is also rather remarkable how Tadanobu
Asano can shift Yasaka from quietly world weary to fiercely ominous with almost
imperceptible alterations in body language and tone of voice. Yet it is Momone
Shinokawa and Kana Mahiro who really tear up viewers as the younger and older
incarnations of Hotaru.
the ending is maybe a bit too indeterminate for such an otherwise
uncompromising film. Regardless, it is definitely the work of an assured
stylist of distinctly Japanese sensibilities. Highly recommended for the unsentimental,
Harmonium screens this Tuesday (2/21)
as part of the 2017 edition of Film Comment Selects.
Labels: Film Comment Selects '17, Japanese Cinema, Koji Fukada