Now showing in Hong Kong

Film review: Harmonium – Tadanobu Asano brings a lingering touch of menace to dark family drama

Koji Fukada lifts the veil on some unpleasant aspects of human nature in story of a mystery man a family accept into their home with shocking consequences – a slow-burning meditation on crime and punishment

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 April, 2017, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 October, 2017, 5:06pm

4/5 stars

Japanese cinema has been blessed with several nuanced morality tales of late. Established directors ranging from Miwa Nishikawa ( The Long Excuse ), Shunji Iwai ( A Bride for Rip Van Winkle ), Lee Sang-il ( Rage ) to Kiyoshi Kurosawa ( Creepy ) all queued up to explore the spectrum of human duplicity with sombre dramas. However, it is hard to think of any recent film more morally ambiguous than Harmonium, writer-director Koji Fukada’s thematic sequel to his second feature, Hospitalité (2010).

When the mysterious Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) shows up one day outside the home workshop of metal worker Toshio (Kanji Furutachi), the stoic family patriarch offers him a job and lets him move in – much to the surprise of his unhappy wife, Akie (Mariko Tsutsui), and their curious 10-year-old daughter, Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa). But once Akie develops feelings for the stranger, and Hotaru begins learning to play the harmonium from him, Yasaka, despite his sometimes sinister aura, grows ever closer to this suburban family.

Japanese filmmaker Koji Fukada on Cannes winner Harmonium, his Eric Rohmer fandom, and his brush with theatre

We learn early on that Yasaka is a murder convict who shares an unspoken past with Toshio, but the film otherwise keeps its audience guessing every step until the end. A shocking incident takes place midway through the story, which jumps forward eight years to reveal the traumatic aftermath the characters must then try to make sense of. A slow-burning meditation on crime and punishment, Fukada’s film sidesteps easy catharsis to stage a serious, and quite emotionally intense, inquiry into the unknown shades of human nature.

Harmonium opens on April 13

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