Star rating – 7/10
This new Japanese portrait of a family still grieving the tragic death of their eldest son 12 years previously is a gentle mirror on the intricacies of a family who are, like many families, not at all at ease with each other. Yoshio Harada plays a retired doctor who measures the success of his sons solely by whether or not they choose the same profession as he did. His wife is happy entertaining her remaining children and their families as they come home to mark the anniversary of her son’s death. She is not so happy, however, with the behaviour of her husband, who is, to put it very mildly, a glass half empty sort of guy.
The slightly overlong introduction to the family members sets the scene, as food is prepared for the gathering. And the pleasant but materialistic daughter wants to both keep the peace, and to secure her family’s permanent place in her parent’s home at the same time. Alongside her is her remaining brother, who has obviously annoyed his parents by marrying a widow with a young son.
The film is a window into the minute detail of Japanese domestic life – and that aspect of the piece is very interesting. But many of the main characters are not people with whom I could sympathise a great deal at all. They are cantankerous to each other, and are not prepared to say what they really feel at most points.
They are living with the broken hopes and dreams that died with their son Junpei. They are crushed by the weight of the expectations of their father. And they are coming to terms with the new reality of the mixed up families in modern Japan.
I cannot say that the family portrait painted was ‘lovely’ – as the publicity posters proclaim. This is however, a very interesting and intimate portrait of how a family copes with loss and disappointment, and carries on regardless.