Harmonium – Fuchi ni tatsu (2016)
Directed by: Koji Fukada | 118 minutes | drama | Actors: Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano, Kanji Furutachi, Kana Mahiro, Takahiro Miura, Momone Shinokawa, Taiga
‘Harmonium’ (2016) opens with the sound of a harmonium, and a little later we see a girl playing the instrument. In those first seconds, director Fukada puts out his teasing thorns. Because why open your film with a mellow tune on such an old-fashioned harmonium? The original Japanese title ‘Fuchi ni tatsu’ translates as borderline that does not quite have the same connotation, which is why Fukada has chosen for the international release the name of the instrument that is so prominent and prominent in the first part of the film. then so meaningfully absent until just before the end. Key word here is harmony and especially that of family ties. According to Fukada, these are too idealized in Japanese films, while there are so many different types of family relationships. What about the ‘failed family’—as Fukada calls it—in ‘Harmonium’?
In long, simple shots he sketches a family that seems to function, but where the destruction is stirring on the surface. Hotaru’s daughter —who is practicing on the harmonium for a performance that will never come — keeps her two barely communicating parents together by her very presence. It doesn’t get really cozy at the dinner table and not at all when Hotaru sets the metaphysical basis for the rest of the story with her question about a mother crab spider that lets herself be eaten by her children. Can a moral lesson be drawn from this bizarre example from the insect world?
Once again Fukada is stimulating the viewer, it is a question that we can add to the list and that list only gets longer when the eccentric Yasaka (played by the internationally relatively well-known actor Tadanobu Asano who excels in modest roles thanks to his mask-like face ) one day at the door. Yasaka turns out to be an old acquaintance of father Toshio and is allowed to live and work with the family for a while, without Toshio discussing this with his wife Akie. The almost unreal Yasaka has a positive influence on the family in the beginning. He helps daughter Hotaru with her harmonium lessons and turns out to be an engaging conversation partner for Akie. As suddenly as he came, he disappears from their lives as a curious apparition that in retrospect looks more like an eerie ghost that has seriously disturbed the fragile harmony.
And there Fukada very carefully rubs against the horror genre with this psychological drama, which is not unusual in Japanese cinema, where cross-fertilization of genres is always lurking. In the case of ‘Harmonium’ this works out well; the everyday compositions, the simple editing and the natural acting of the actors resonate nicely with the slightly unreal undertone and the aloof atmosphere, leaving it to the viewer to answer his questionnaire.