VOD film review: Family Romance, LLC
Luke Channell | On 03, Jul 2020
Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Yuichi Ishii, Mahiro Tanimoto
The central topic of Werner Herzog’s latest film Family Romance, LLC seems perfectly suited to the director’s penchant for the strange and unusual. Based in Tokyo, the titular company hires out actors to stand in for absent family members and friends. Herzog chooses to implement a storytelling mode that is as surreal as the real-life business itself; melding fact with fiction, the German filmmaker places non-fictional details into a narrative context and shoots the film using a documentary sensibility. For a director who has continually fluctuated between narrative and documentary film throughout his career, this beguiling approach makes sense, yet it also prevents the feature from fully getting to grips with the film’s material.
Real-life founder of Family Romance Yuichi Ishii stars as himself in scripted scenes, penned by Herzog, which take inspiration from his actual experiences with the company. The main narrative thread involves Yuichi posing as 12-year-old Mahiro’s (Mahiro Tanimoto) estranged father of 10 years. With Mahiro fooled, the pair begin to bond during their trips out to tourist hotspots together and Yuichi soon finds himself in danger of jeopardising the company’s philosophy that employees are, “not allowed to love or to be loved”.
Though clearly not a seasoned performer, Ishii puts in a likeable, authentic turn in the lead role and exhibits a genuine connection with Yuichi, making this central relationship feel completely believable. After the pair’s outings together, Ishii reports back to Mahiro’s mother and discloses her secrets while billing the family for the expenses of the day’s activities. This kind of transactional attitude to an emotional relationship throws up many interesting moral questions, but Herzog’s hybrid narrative fails to give them the interrogation they deserve. With no voiceover to shape the narrative, Family Romance, LLC seems disappointingly uninterested in scrutinising the ethics behind these performative relationships and the inner conflict Yuichi faces is never properly unpacked.
That said, there’s still plenty of fun to be had with the strangeness of the subject matter, particularly as the film explores the firm’s other services. In sequences that exude oddball charm, Yuichi poses as fake paparazzi for a fame hungry individual, recreates a women’s lottery-winning moment and takes the rap for a railway employee’s costly mistake. These amusing segments provide fascinating glimpses into the mindsets of the individuals who fuel this bizarre wish-fulfilment industry.
Ending on a contemplative, powerful note, Family Romance, LLC produces enough engaging material to satisfy viewers looking for a taste of the weird, but leaves its most intriguing ethical questions frustratingly unanswered.