When considering Japanese cinema, the first things which spring to mind are likely to be samurais, Yakuza or devils. However, the Japanese have produced some incredibly powerful and touching family dramas and character studies. Most notably the work of the late great Yasujirō Ozu (Tokyo Story, Late Spring, An Autumn Afternoon), but also Kurosawa’s Ikuru and Korreda’s Like Father, Like Son. In Harmonium, director Kôji Fukada carries on this rich tradition.
Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) runs his late father’s machine shop. Living with his wife Akie (Mariko Tsutsui), and their young daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa), he spends most of his time concentrating on work whilst Akie is dedicated to their child. One day his old acquaintance Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) shows-up at the shop. Recently released from jail, Toshio gives him a job. Yasaka becomes close to both mother and daughter until one day a tragedy occurs.
In many ways, the family’s lives when Yasaka arrives are most accurately reflected by the metronome Hotaru uses to practice her harmonium playing. They live a banal existence. Obediently going through the motions. The entrance of a new dynamic into their lives initially brings harmony to Akie and Hotaru, filling a void for both. However, it just serves to make Toshio more withdrawn. Harmonium is a beautifully observed study of family life, particularly of the lonely Akie. It’s a slow-burning drama which leaves a powerful impression.
Harmonium is in cinemas from Friday.