March 23, 2023

By Diana Cheng
AAP film review

A scene from director Koji Fukada’s “Harmonium.” (Fuchi Ni Tatsu Film Partners and Comme Des Cinemas.

“Harmonium” is a Japanese feature in the Asian Frontiers program at the 36th Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival.

To quote Tolstoy yet again, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way,” it’s easy to see “Harmonium” portrays one of the latter. But to say Toshio’s (Kanji Furutachi) family is “unhappy” is an outright understatement.

At the beginning, they seem a normal family. We see wife Akié (Mariko Tsutsui) helping young daughter Hotaru practice the harmonium for an upcoming concert. Husband Toshio runs his metalwork shop adjacent their home. Life seems routine and mundane until a stranger shows up at the shop. He is Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), just out of prison and has come to Toshio for a favor. Toshio takes him into their home to stay and gives him a job in his shop. Things fall apart soon after.

Director Koji Fukada slowly reveals the secrets from years past. Hitchcockian suspense turns the family drama into a chilling thriller. In his subtle and engaging way, Fukada lets Yoshio’s nemesis creep in, rocking the calm surface by irreparable undercurrents. The opening scene of a casual dinner table chat about heaven and hell echoes like a bombshell as the story unfolds.

A haunting tale of crime and punishment, “Harmonium” is the winner of the Prix du Jury at the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes 2016. Screenings in the Twin Cities April 15, 18, 27. Info and tickets online.

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