“HARMONIUM”— A Revenge Drama

“Harmonium” (“Fuchi ni tatsu”)

A Revenge Drama

Amos Lassen

“Harmonium” follows characters that are much like the kinds of people we meet in an Alfred Hitchcock film. Polite stranger Yasaka (Tandanobu Asano) disturbs the peace of emotionally unavailable patriarch Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and his curious wife Akie (Mariko Tsutsui).This is a film about mood and as we watch, we try to regain some sense of calmness just like the main characters try to do. Characters go about their daily tasks. Akie oversees daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa) as she practices on her harmonium. Toshio works in his garage workshop and Hotaru skips home from a nearby playground. Yasaka, an ex-convict and old acquaintance of Toshio’s, is the only main character that has no set routine. His presence throws everybody off, but they eventually get used to him. They fear that something violent and abrupt will happen if they otherwise treat him like a threat. Maybe he’s as tranquil and non-threatening as he seems and not someone to be feared.

Writer-director Kôji Fukada vacillates between the normal and the nightmarish and between formality and the id. We really see this with the abrupt arrival of Yasaka who is one of Toshio’s oldest friends. When he is released from prison, Yasaka is invited to live with the family, with no explanation to the rest of them. With his rigidly upright posture and buttoned-up dress clothes, Yasaka gets along well with Mom and daughter. He presents himself as a compulsive truth-teller. But his presence is something else as we learn when the film moves forward. This is a film that works on the emotions and not on the intellect. Its binary approach cracks when a new and largely unexplained crisis happens and the plot moves ahead about eight years. Yasaka’s no longer on the scene, but the family is in even deep trouble. More than that I cannot say.

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