Hospitalite -- Film Review

A strange and sly dig at Japanese xenophobia.

A dour family of four learns the obligations and consequences of "Hospitalite" when they take in a mysterious man as their live-in worker.

This bizarre black comedy with allegorical overtones about Japanese xenophobia is a variation on the "house intruder" motif, with precedents as diverse as Yoshimitsu Morita's "Family Game" and Max Frisch's play "The Fire Raisers."

Director-screenwriter Koji Fukada continually springs surprises on the audience as characters and subplots multiply like amorous rabbits, but by the end, one can see method in both his seemingly mad characters and free-wheeling script. Festivals ought to extend their hospitality to this droll and intelligent film.

Mikio Kobayashi (Kenji Yamauchi) runs a small printing business inherited from his father in the rickety ancestral house which doubles as his workshop and shop-front. One day, a dodgy-looking man turns up, ostensibly to offer news of the parakeet that Kobayashi's daughter Eriko lost. He claims to be Kagawa (Kanji Furudachi), son of an erstwhile financial patron of Kobayashi's father. Kobayashi hires him as a temporary replacement for a sick employee

The expression "give him an inch, he'll take a mile" seems to be coined specifically for Kawaga. First, he asks to move in with his employers, next he brings home his Brazilian wife Annabelle (Bryerly Long) (she says she's Bosnian to someone else) who loves parading herself naked. Together, they stir up the hornet's nest in the household, and lay the groundwork for an "alien invasion."

This docile, non-descript petite-bourgeois family may seem like the bedrock of society, but all the members have a past that they prefer to hide. What Kagawa achieves is not just to drag skeletons out of the closet, but to decree a Saturnalia that liberates them from their conventional mindsets and behavior, symbolized by wimpy Kobayashi talking back to his busybody neighbors who are paranoid about homeless and foreigners.

Fukada has a gift for satirizing the neighborhood's latent xenophobia to wry effect. Kobayashi's wife Natsuki (Kiki Sugino) is proud of her English proficiency while his divorced sister Seiko (Kumi Hyodo) daydreams about living abroad, when they see a foreigner in the flesh, they are flummoxed.

Kenichi Negishi's sharp HD lensing brings out the character of the plain, aging three-storey house, and turns props like the printing machine, which occupies the foreground in most frames and roars like a clumsy dinosaur, a metaphor for Kobayashi's aging profession.

His cast's theater background can be credited for making the timing of the deadpan dialogue spot-on, especially the scenes when the Kobayashis are flabbergasted by Kawaga's ever-more outlandish shenanigans, and yet cannot bring themselves to protest; or the tension hidden between Natsuki and Seiko, who each feel they have more right to the house.

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