Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Jul 03, 2019 7:53 pm 
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An unpalatable death in the family

"The Suzuki Family Lies" is the more discreet Japanese title of this first feature by Katsumi Nojiri, whose focus on a family coping with the death by suicide of one of its members. Nojiri had this happen with his own brother, and the screenplay is his. This film is a scattershot treatment of the grieving process. There are Kubler-Ross's stages and then some: Nojiri throws the book at the situation. This means it's not particularly realistic - though it's hard to find the humor that some see here. Brevity is the soul of wit. This screenplay is shapeless, roundabout, and heavy-handed. Good ensemble work helps shore it together, but it's much too long.

The pivotal event is the suicide of Koichi (international star Ryo Kase), number one son of indeterminate age (Kase's in his forties, like the director), who's been a "hikikomori" home recluse for some time. When his doting mother Yukio (Hideko Hara) discovers him hanging from the ceiling, it's too much and in her shock she collapses into a coma. She comes to in the hospital with no memory of this trauma and her husband Sachio (Ittoku Kishibe) decides to keep the truth hidden, with cooparation from their daughter Fumi (Mai Kiryo), whose relation with Koichi was complicated, and also his brother Hitochi (Nao Ohmori), who's to pretend Koichi went to work with him in Argentina while Yukio was unconscious.

This leads to such lengths as getting everybody color coordinated Che Guevara T shirts (because Che was born in Argentina) and a colleague sending letters composed by Fumi actually from Argentina, and so on. Of course eventually the time comes when the pretense can hold no more and Yukio finds a sign that Koichi is gone for good.

This process is the mere pretext for explorations of anger, grief, and discovery. There's a strange insurance policy including a certain "Eve," and the father's trips to a brothel, Fumi's relations with group grief counseling sessions, a visit from an obviously fake "medium." If you think of Japanese manners as low keyed and repressed, their personality as shy, scenes here will belie those notions. The most histrionic moments come at the grief circle with Fumi, and the rich woman who offers everyone her homemade pickles and dominates the whole group with her loud intercessions. Eventually Fumi pulls out all the dramatic stops and expresses her anger, and then her guilt, with the group and with the family respectively. There is also consideration of the nature and meaning of death, and where Koichi "went" and so on, especially given that neither Buddhists nor Christians will accept his ashes (though the insurance company pays). And there's the bat that flies around in Koichi's room - like his not-yet-departed spirit - get it?

All this is very interesting, I suppose, if you have the patience for it randomly by itself and are willing to be looking at a grab bag treatment of the subject matter. But the tonal shifts, narrative twists and turns, and numerous unexpected and unnecessary flashbacks mar the artistic structure, assuming there is any. In his Japan Times review Mark Shilling suggests this film "recycles tried-and-true formulas of the local family drama genre." That doesn't sound like much of a recommendation, and the mere fact that "isn't as heavy as you'd expect" (which is open to question) doesn't help much. Still, it might have worked better with a whole lot more thorough editing.

Lying to Mom 鈴木家の嘘/Suzuki-ke no uso, 133 mins., debuted at Tokyo Oct 28, 2018, releasing in Japan Nov. 16. It also showed in the Nippon International and NYAFF, and was screened at the latter (the North American Premiere) for this review.
Wednesday, July 10
6:00 PM


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