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Hamonium is a dark drama from acclaimed writer-director Kôji Fukada (Hospitalité). 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 (which I also 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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.