2 March 2011 | CountZero313
delightful family intrigue offers comedy and social comment in equal measure
Mikio runs a small printing company in working-class Tokyo, taking care of the machines while his young, beautiful wife manages the books and the education of her stepdaughter Eriko, from Mikio's previous marriage. Mikio's sister lives with them, retreating from her own broken marriage. Their earnest if humdrum lives see little drama, except the escape of their parakeet Pea, and the gossipy interference of the Neighbourhood Watch. But drama is on its way in the form of Kagawa, an Iago-esque charmer who forces his way into their lives bringing irrevocable consequences.
Writer/ director Koji Fukuda presents an ostensibly absurdist comedy that also functions as a sly take on Japanese paranoia and persistent reluctance to engage with the outside world. The story sets up the usual bogeymen of the Japanese media – homeless itinerants, illegal immigrants – while suggesting that the truly awful machinations come from domestic sources. That said, the polemic is lightly dotted through; it is the comedy and family intrigue that dominate here. From Ozu's "Tokyo Monogatari", through to Kawase's "Moe no Suzaku' and the recent "Still Walking" from Koreda, the ties that bind and infuriate have proved fertile ground for Japanese cinema. Fukuda's "Hospitalite" is both a welcome addition to the canon and a fresh take on the genre. The tight script and brisk pacing have a lot to do with that success, but the performances from the principals here are exceptional and really take the film to a new height. Keji Yamaguchi as weak-willed Mikio is a delight, while Kanji Furutachi plays Kagawa with a level of menace that is Shakespearean. The scenes with the two together, especially when Kagawa is twisting the knife on Mikio, are priceless, be they comedic or racking up the tension. Minor players hold their own: Kumi Hyodo is impressive as the self-deceiving sister Seiko, showing that acting is re-acting with some hilarious expressions. Hiroko Matsuda completely embodies the neighbourhood busybody. Kiki Sugino as Natsuki, the narrative's emotional core, keeps it straight, the perfect foil to the mayhem that is being unleashed around her. We share Natsuki's rising incredulity to unfolding events – only to realize that she, too, is complicit
The film was shot low-budget HD but technically stands up. There are really only four locations – inside downstairs, inside upstairs, the street and the riverside – and Fukuda uses the claustrophobia aesthetically, building and releasing the tension as the tempo demands.
By the end, everything is back the way it was, though not quite the same. That motif resolves itself as if to wink at the hypocrisy inherent in Japanese discourse on immigration and their own safe society. Social critique aside, this is a joyous film, superbly acted, deftly scripted and shot, and thought-provoking into the bargain. Brave, mature film-making that deserves to be seen by audiences in their thousands.