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Sunday, December 10, 2017

HARMONIUM -- DVD Review by Porfle



HARMONIUM, aka "Fuchi ni tatsu" (Film Movement, 2016), is a very neatly-rendered Japanese film by director Kôji Fukada (SAYONARA, AU REVOIR L'ETE) which should appeal to anyone who wants a little more tragedy in their lives. Or at least in their movies.

I thought at first it was going to be some kind of harrowing CAPE FEAR-type thriller.  After all, it's about a fairly normal family--a somewhat distant, disaffected husband and father Toshio (Kanji Furutachi), his dutiful, religious wife Akié (Mariko Tsutsui), and their sweet young daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa)--suddenly having to deal with Toshio's ex-convict friend Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), who comes seeking employment and a place to stay after an eleven-year stretch in prison for murder.

Gradually we learn that there's more to Yasaka's crime than anyone realizes--namely, Toshio's involvement, for which he went unpunished and free to live his life (which he takes for granted) while his friend languished behind bars.


We feel about as awkward as Akié about the whole thing and wait for the violence and terror to begin, but a funny thing happens--Yasaka turns out to be a gentle, patient, and seemingly caring man who's everything that Akié could want in a husband. 

He even takes the time to teach Hotaru how to play the harmonium for her upcoming talent concert, assuming the role of both teacher and surrogate father. In short, he's starting to make Toshio look like yesterday's chopped liver.

Already this scenario has the potential to turn out a number of bad ways, and all we can do is grit our teeth in quiet dread and wait to see what direction it takes. 


This is exacerbated by the growing closeness between Yasaka and Akié, with the ex-convict covetously regarding Toshio's life as the one he himself should have had. Eventually, we fear, he'll begin to take whatever steps are necessary to make that a reality.

And yet even at this point, HARMONIUM refuses to settle into the course we keep predicting for it.  After a single shocking moment that drastically changes everything, the rest of the tale comes to us more in a haze of resignation and regret than anything resembling your standard thriller. 

The fear and anxiety are still there, but not because we're worried about any kind of violence and retribution.  Instead, we must watch the dissolution of a family that has lost its reason to exist and descended into suicidal despair. 


Not even the promise of possible revenge, legal or otherwise, is enough to hold them together.  They're like a jigsaw puzzle with the pieces falling away one by one. 

Kôji Fukada directs it all with crisp, economical efficiency and is blessed with a cast who give their all in their roles.  While lacking the usual tension and suspense of a thriller, the story holds us firmly in a grip of morbid curiosity as to just how much worse things can get for these poor people.

HARMONIUM resembles a Park Chan-wook "vengeance trilogy" tale without the climactic visceral catharsis.  Instead, we're left only with the mundane sadness of everyday existence amplified by the crushing weight of circumstances too heavy to bear.  It's an effective slice-of-tragedy story that will leave you heartsick.

Buy it from Film Movement

DVD Extras:
Interview with star Kanji Furutachi
Bonus Kôji Fukada short film "Birds"
Film Movement trailers

5.1 Surround Sound/2.0 Stereo
Japanese with English subtitles
1.66:1 widescreen
120 minutes



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