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Film review: What a Wonderful Family! – Tokyo Family cast in light-hearted encore

Yoji Yamada’s first comedy in over 20 years centres on what happens when grandparents decide to divorce. Strong performances and some genuinely funny vignettes enliven the film

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2016, 10:41am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 May, 2016, 12:36pm

3/5 stars

Veteran director Yoji Yamada returns with his first comedy in more than two decades, as a suburban middle-class family is thrown into disarray when the grandparents announce they are getting divorced. Although Yamada handles the drama with a typically light-hearted touch, injecting plenty of gentle humour into the proceedings, What a Wonderful Family! proves only fleetingly entertaining.

Enjoying a well-earned retirement of golf and drinking, Shuzo (Isao Hashizume) is blindsided when Tomiko (Kazuko Yoshiyuki), his dutiful wife of 50 years, requests a divorce for her birthday. Their three adult children scramble to determine what could have provoked such a decision, leading to all manner of comedic hijinks and introspection on their own strained relationships.

Youthful heroes find themselves on the social and economic margins in recent Japanese films

Employing the same cast as he used in Tokyo Family , his recent remake of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, Yamada invites comparison between this film and the 1953 classic. Attitudes towards marriage vary wildly across the generations, with their daughter (Tomoko Nakajima) perpetually threatening divorce to keep her husband in line, while her younger brother (Satoshi Tsumabuki) sees his upcoming marriage as a way to finally escape the family home.

Long-suffering Tomiko has had enough of cleaning up after an elderly drunk, while her recent enrolment in a creative writing awakens a dormant yearning for romance. Unsurprisingly, the film comes down resolutely on the side of preserving the family status quo, but strong performances, a quirky score from Joe Hisaishi, and a smattering of genuinely funny vignettes raise it above TV melodrama.

What a Wonderful Family! opens on May 19

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