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