Fam­ily ties

HAR­MO­NIUM, drama, not rated, in Ja­panese with sub­ti­tles, The Screen,

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES -

The har­mo­nium is a reed-based in­stru­ment, a small pump or­gan with a key­board and a foot bel­lows. Lit­tle Ho­taru (Momone Shi­nokawa) prac­tices on it re­li­giously, with­out much dis­tinc­tion. Her fa­ther, Toshio (Kanji Fu­ru­tachi), a bland, dis­tant lit­tle man, has a metalworking shop in the garage. Her mother, Akie (Mariko Tsut­sui), is a meek, de­vout Chris­tian. There seems to be very lit­tle con­nec­tive tis­sue bind­ing this fam­ily to­gether.

Then one morn­ing Toshio opens the door of his shop and sees a man stand­ing silently across the street. He turns out to be Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), an old ac­quain­tance of Toshio’s, who promptly hires him as an as­sis­tant and of­fers him a room to board in the house, with­out both­er­ing to run the plan by Akie.

We don’t know at first what the se­cret is that hangs over their re­la­tion­ship and be­gins to per­me­ate and in­fect the house­hold. How­ever, we sense some­thing dark. But Yasaka is po­lite and help­ful. He of­fers to give Ho­taru lessons on the har­mo­nium, he pitches in around the house, and he joins them on fam­ily out­ings. Soon he is help­ing out be­yond the call of duty, arous­ing a flame of un­sus­pected lust in the re­pressed, mousy Akie.

There’s some­thing about the lanky, magnetic Yasaka that spreads a chill. Per­haps it’s in the way we some­times catch him look­ing at the lit­tle girl, or in the re­served, hooded-eyed re­gard with which he ob­serves the house­hold. Grad­u­ally se­crets seep out, and the plot twists in ex­pected and un­ex­pected ways. At around the story’s mid­point, some­thing hap­pens that pays off that dank air of fore­bod­ing and kicks the story eight years down the road and onto a dif­fer­ent, even darker track. This sec­tion in­tro­duces a new char­ac­ter, Takashi (Taiga), a young shop ap­pren­tice, who brings a link to con­nect the dots and fuse the strands.

Writer-direc­tor Kôji Fukada won the Un Cer­tain Re­gard Jury prize at Cannes last year with this el­e­gantly chilly tale of sim­mer­ing re­sent­ments and long-form re­venge. He keeps things mov­ing slowly and in­ex­orably, but never lets the pace lag as he builds toward a shat­ter­ing end­ing that plays like a melan­choly dis­cor­dant blast on the har­mo­nium.

— Jonathan Richards

Se­cret lives: Tadanobu Asano

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