VOD film review: Harmonium
Matthew Turner | On 05, May 2017
Director: Kôji Fukada
Cast: Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano, Kanji Furutachi
Watch Harmonium online in the UK: Curzon Home Cinema
The sixth feature from Japanese writer-director Koji Fukada, Harmonium begins as a slow-burning family drama before blind-siding you with a series of abrupt and brutal plot developments halfway through. The effect is profoundly shocking and leaves you gasping for breath, unable to tear yourself away, as the story continues its quiet course of devastation.
The film opens in a small Japanese town, where quiet family man Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) has a metal shop attached to the house where he lives with his wife, Akie (Mariko Tsutsui), and pre-teen daughter, Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa). One day, a stranger, dressed in white, appears and is immediately offered both a job and a room in their house by Toshio, who claims that Mr. Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) is an old friend.
Akie is initially taken aback by the man’s presence in their house, but she soon forms an attachment to Mr. Yasaka, especially after he takes it upon himself to help Hotaru learn to play the harmonium. However, his presence leads inexorably to a terrible tragedy, at which point the story jumps forward eight years to find Yasaka missing and the family still in turmoil, as various long-buried secrets come bubbling to the surface.
Asano delivers a pitch-perfect performance as Yasaka, whose slow and steady ingratiation into the family is deeply chilling, even as we see the positive effect it has on a clearly bored Akie and Hotaru. However, it’s in a casual comment to Toshio – passed off as a joke – that we first get a hint of the true menace he represents, something that Fukada exploits for maximum tension.
Similarly, Kanji Furutachi is superb as Toshio, his seemingly oblivious demeanour finally revealing powerful depths of emotion, while Mariko Tsutsui delivers a complex, multi-faceted performance as Akie that evolves in intriguing ways throughout the film. There’s also strong support from Taiga as Toshio’s new apprentice, whose presence proves equally disruptive, albeit in different ways.
Fukada’s direction is masterful throughout, achieving a slow drip of crucial information (such as the connection between Toshio and Yasaka) and weaponising casual moments of conversation to devastating effect. He orchestrates a number of powerful sequences that skilfully incorporate elements like a repeated song and a sudden explosion of colour to arresting and memorable effect. This is heightened by some exceptional editing (also by Fukada), particularly in the central scene, while the sudden cut to eight years later is all the more affecting for the way it unfolds. The various revelations, when they come, have an almost blackly comic edge, but their effect is utterly brutal.
Harmonium is available now in UK cinemas and on Curzon Home Cinema.