Director Enters Lynch Country

2017 CAAMFEST, New People

Harmonium (2017) is a dark comedy from Japanese director Kôji Fukada. Ostensibly a family drama, it has some violent and especially gruesome scenes. Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and Akie (Mariko Tsutsui) live with their young daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa) above their light industry shop. Hotaru plays folk songs a harmonium, an organ-like keyboard instrument.

Furutachi’s bearded Toshio is modestly prosperous. To all appearances, he’s a mild-mannered family man and a fair boss at his shop. However, there’s a secret in his past  brought to the surface when Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) shows up. He’s tall and good-looking but oddly stiff in bearing. He addresses his old friend Toshio in formal language “out of habit.” They were small time criminals and they dance around something that happened.

The film satirizes Japanese etiquette and behavior. The bowing back and forth is excessive even for the Japanese. Playing on Toshio’s sense of obligation, Yasaka starts work in the shop and moves into the family home.

The uninvited guest immediately puts a strain on the marriage. The tension between Yasaka and Akie is palpable. Further, Yasaka takes an unusual interest in young Hotaru, even tutoring her on the harmonium.

Director Fukada’s twisted take on Japanese society has been compared to Nagisa Oshima. The dark tale with satirical overtones is also reminiscent of David Lynch favorites like Blue Velvet. Also like Lynch, music is a key component. Hiroyuki Onogawa is the composer. The cinematography is by Ken’ichi Negishi. Fukuda edited with consulting editor Julia Gregory.