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PostPosted: Thu Mar 17, 2011 2:53 pm 
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With a friend like Kagawa

The oddly-titled Hospitalité (Kantai), Koji Fukada's film set in working-class Tokyo about a sudden "acquaintance" who moves in on a little family and takes over their house and business and invades with a horde of fake relatives, is a variation on the theme treated thriller-style in Dominik Moll's 2000 With a Friend Like Harry, which starred the charmingly menacing Sergi Lopez. This time the focus is on hidden secrets that backfire and an elaborate scheme to hide illegal immigrants. Fukada's droll comedy is a triumph of the deadpan that overwhelms itself with an overdone finale and a too-simple trajectory. This is one of those process tales. The alien takeover advances, proceeds, climaxes, explodes, and vanishes, leaving us with zero enlightenment about human beings or these characters, who remain opaque. So too with the mildly thought-provoking implications about Japanese xenophobia. But there is much neatness and drollery in the plotting and the acting here, and this is promising work.

The plot opens with a family of four who live over a little printing business. The production has dwindled to subcontracted government pension envelopes for the elderly (a boom business). There's the husband, Mikio Kobayashi (Keji Yamaguchi); his very young wife Natsuki (Kiki Sugino); his divorced sister Seiko (Kumi Hyodo); and his young daughter Eriko (Eriko Ono), not by the young wife, whom Natsuki "tutors" in English, though she has only an elementary knowledge of the language. Eriko's pet parakeet, Pea (Pi-chan), has escaped and they put up a notice on the local bulletin board. Seiko is thinking about leaving the country, but meanwhile is involved with a local committee to deal with the threat of foreigners, squatters and homeless people in the neighborhood.

Kagawa (Kanji Furudachi) -- that's what he calls himself, anyway, tears down the parakeet notice and goes to the house, claiming to be the son of a man who originally financed the printing business with Kobayashi. The regular employee who operates the press has just fallen ill, and Kagawa offers to fill in. He also takes up residence upstairs, saying he's just been evicted. Without explanation he brings a foreign woman, Annabelle (Bryerly Long) who he says is his Braizlian wife. She tells somebody else she's Bosnian, but she speaks unaccented English, and little Japanese. She adds the first truly ominous and weird note.

Kagawa now proceeds to do his work, and we find out secrets as we watch. Mikio's previous wife did not die of an illness as he's told Kagawa; she left him and has remarried. Mikio runs into her while shopping, and Eriko has dinner with her -- she is, after all, Eriko's mother. Natsuki secretly meets with a seedy young guy called Honma (Naoki Sugawara) who turns out to be a relative who's getting illicit money from her. While Natsuki, Eriko, and Kagawa are out looking for the parakeet, which he pretends to have spotted earlier, Kagawa uses his binoculars to spy Mikio having sex with Annabelle. He uses this secret to force Miko to take in Natsuki's seedy relative as another assistant at the press, and he steps up production. Natsuki has an admirer, Kono (Tatsuya Kawamura), a pop singer, and she eventually has a secret with him too.

And there is more that happens and to say it eventually quite strains credulity would be to overlook, perhaps, the intentionally surreal nature of the proceedings right from the beginning. The casualness with which details about people's lives are peeled, or reeled, off, reminds one of the plays of Ionesco. And, by the way, several of the principals here have strong theatrical experience, which may help explain good timing and pointed delivery of some key lines. Fukada is good at delivering his surprises. The only problem, but it is a serious one, is that when Kagawa's takeover goes into high gear, the event and its staging become so over-the-top that one begins to lose focus on the characters and in the end one realizes that nothing of any consequence has been revealed about anybody, really.

The way the movie zeros in on a household and stays in its rooms suggests with deep irony how unlike Ozu or his more recent avatars all this is, though the film consciously alludes to him. These people like those of Morita's The Family Game are a send-up of the traditional Japanese family. They're mismatched, ill-sorted, and not what they seem. Kenichi Negishi's sharp HD photography underlines the apathy, the lack of affect, an extreme of Japanese good manners that is the essential motor behind Kagawa's takeover. He can move several dozen illegal, foreign, and homeless people into a little petit bourgeois household and the inhabitants will be too polite to object. But of course the organized xenophobic neighbors, led by Toshiko (Hiroko Matsuda), are not at all happy. In the end the intruders have vanished like a bad dream or a rowdy party; everything has gone back to where, physically anyway, it was; and there's a fresh parakeet in the cage to replace Pea. It's not the same bird but, "She won't remember," Mitsuko says, meaning Eriko.

Koji Fukada, who is 31, and who wrote, directed, and edited, is a member of Seinendan Theatre Company. This is his fourth film. It debuted at the Tokyo Film Festival in October 2010. Seen and reviewed as part of New Directors/New Films March 23-April 4, 2011, presented by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and MoMA, New York.

ND/NF screenings:
2011-04-02 | 5:15 PM | MoMA
2011-04-03 | 1:00 PM | FSLC

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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