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Harmonium

Film Movement // Unrated // November 14, 2017
List Price: $24.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted June 2, 2018 | E-mail the Author


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Hamonium is a dark drama from acclaimed
writer-director
Kôji Fukada (Hospitalitéstyle="">). It was the winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury
Prize at the
Cannes Film Festival. The film is executive produced by Koichiro
Fukushima (Sweet
Bean
, Fantastic Girls).


The reserved Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) is taken
into
unexpected life territory when his brother Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano)
returns home
from his lengthy stay in prison to live with his brother, alongside
Toshio's
wife Akie (Mariko Tsutsui) and their daughter Hotaru (Momone
Shinokawa). Toshio
aims to give his brother a chance at a new life with his family. It
isn't a
simple transition for him or his family but they each intend to welcome
Yasaka
into their home.


Toshio's brother went to prison for assisting in
the beating
and murder of a man. Yasaka attempts to weave himself back into the
life of his
brother in ways which extend beyond Toshio's comfort. Akie and Yasaka
begin to
have romantic feelings for each other. It causes a rift in his
previously calm
marriage.


Matters are made worse when Toshio and Akie find
their daughter,
Hotaru, bleeding profusely at the side of the road with Yasaka standing
over
her. Did Yasaka beat her or was there a tragic accident? Both Toshio
and Akie
ponder that question. Yasaka quietly slips away.


Years later, the story picks up with Toshio and
Akie caring
for the now adult Hotaru (Kana Mahiro). She was paralyzed from the
waist down
and has limited mobility and speech. The family drifts by together with
unspoken sadness and anger. Toshio wonders if or when they might meet
his
brother again and discover what happened to his daughter that day. As
the story
unfolds, Hamonium offers more mystery and surprises as the
dramatic
events take one startling turn after another.


This is a remarkably well produced feature film.
For an independent
feature from Japan, it has a strong production aesthetic and many
noteworthy
aspects to it. The music score by Hiroyuki Onogawa (Labyrinth of
Dreams
)
fits the established mood of the story impeccably. The cinematography
by
Ken-ichi Negishi (Japan's Year Zero), which is dark and
foreboding,
likewise fits the depressing tone of the filmmaking.


Written and directed by Kôji Fukada, who
made the delightful
comedic feature Hospitalité style="">(which I also href="https://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/54378/hospitalit/?___rd=2">reviewed),
the acclaimed filmmaker takes a sharp u-turn from the comedic delights
of that
feature into significantly darker, moodier territory here. Yet he has
managed
to create another excellent feature with great storytelling,
performances, and
craft. Hamonium again demonstrates why Fukada is
amongst the most
interesting voices in independent Japanese cinema today.


The experience of watching a haunting dramatic
work like Hamonium
is powerful. This is a film which will stay with audiences. It
builds
to a quiet conclusion which some may overlook as being too abstract or
solemn.
Yet it's in quiet directorial moments like these, when the final frame
of the
film comes to a close, that one also recognizes the brilliance of the
filmmaking.


The DVD:


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Video:


Harmonium arrives on DVD in North America
by distributor
Film Movement. Presented on DVD in the original 1.66:1 widescreen
theatrical
aspect ratio, the release offers a somewhat subdued color scheme and
isn't a
particularly impressive DVD presentation. The film doesn't appear very
sharp or
clear on this DVD. It's not terrible but it lacks the kind of detail
and
clarity which is usually found on Film Movement's titles.


The film has a merely acceptable presentation
quality which
is damped by the average quality encode. The cinematography would have
been
better suited to a Blu-ray release. Unfortunately, the film only got a
DVD in
the US (despite Blu-ray releases having been produced in Japan and the
United
Kingdom).


Audio:


The audio is presented in Japanese 5.1 Dolby
Digital surround
sound. Despite being a surround sound presentation on this release,
there is
barely any surround activity. The sound design was implemented in such
a way
that only the music and minor sound effects utilize the surrounds.
Overall,
it's a decent audio presentation with easy to understand dialogue. It's
a
dialogue heavy film and this audio presentation puts all the emphasis
on that. It's
not too surprising for an indie drama.


On the plus side, the release has excellent
English
subtitles which are free of grammatical and spelling errors. style="">


style="font-size: 10pt; font-family: "Verdana","sans-serif";">


Extras:


New York Asian Film Festival (NYAFF) Interview
with actor
Kanji Furutachi
(33 min.), who discusses his part in the film and
his
collaborations with director Fukada (from the downright comedic to the
role in
this serious drama).


Birds (2017, 8 min.) is a short film from
director
Koji Fukada produced after Harmonium, which focuses on an
argument
between three people that leads to some surprising directions as the
big
dispute leads them all to a quirky situation. With English subtitles.
It's a
quirky comedic short which entertains with its zany scenario and
conclusion.


Film Movement Trailers promoting other releases
from the
film label.


Final Thoughts:


Kôji Fukada is an excellent filmmaker who
has crafted
another superb effort. The film is much different from his previous
work but it
is every bit as well made. Fans of Japanese filmmaking should seek out
this
award-winning drama. It's an engaging, intelligent, and compelling work
from a
brilliant director.


Recommended.



Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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