Household X: Berlin Review

Bland film portraying a dysfunctional Japanese family is itself barely functional.

Koki Yoshida directs with the usual ticks but none of the intriguing quirks of Japanese independent cinema in his film about personal frustration and the universal breakdown of communication.

BERLIN -- Portraying a white-collar family that’s fraying at the seams due to the recession economy, Household X is like a cheap and cheerless copy of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s superior Tokyo Sonata. Koki Yoshida directs with the usual ticks but none of the intriguing quirks of Japanese independent cinema, weaving a threadbare plot about personal frustration and universal breakdown of communication with shoddy film technique, low emotional intensity and little genuine sympathy for the protagonists.

Household X will be taken in by festivals dedicated to putting a roof over independent films. Beyond that, it has no commercial prospects.

If the anonymity implied by the title is anything to go by, the Hashimotos are a typical Japanese urban family. Well, they certainly could audition for any zombie film. Under the constant threat of redundancy, Hashimoto senior (Taguchi Tomorowo) is always the last worker in the office. He prefers to spend the night in a capsule hotel with a colleague who brags about going home only on weekends “to do laundry.” Son Hiroaki belongs to Japan’s expanding army of “freeters” – low-paid, freelance menial workers on graveyard shifts. Both treat wife/mother Michiko with mild irritation.

With puffy eyes and sagging face, Hashimoto’s wife Michiko certainly looks the part of Corpse Bride. When not fastidiously placing her carefully dished food at just the right angle on the dining table, she roams supermarkets stockpiling lunchboxes to satisfy her bulimic urges. Watching her quiet devastation as her husband and son pass over her and her meals (not surprisingly, since she wraps everything with unappetizing cling wrap), the audience ought to feel sympathy for her. Yet the microscopic manner in which Yoshida observes her with a jittery camera that spies on her from awkward angles brings an uncomfortable voyeurism to her suffering.

Yoshida’s film language -- shot-on-the-fly with a jerky rhythm and deliberately fragmented compositions -- is so pretentious and intrusive that it bars the audience from getting in touch with the protagonists’ genuine distress. Obviously, the Hashimotos’ situation and behavior are symptomatic of a wider social phenomenon. However, Yoshida doesn’t make the connections clear, nor has he found any interesting new way of treating the subject.

Veteran character actor Taguchi’s usual distinctive presence is wasted on his non-descript everyman character. Minami overdoes her obsessive-compulsive shtick. Her rabbit caught in the headlights expression is a total misfire.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Forum)
Production companies: PFF Partners – PIA Corporation, Tokio, Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc, Imagica Corp., Tokio, Avex Entertainment Inc, Tokio, Usen Corporation, Little more Co., Ltd., Tokio
Cast: Kaho Minami, Taguchi Tomorowo, Tomohiro Kaku
Director-screenwriter-editor: Koki Yoshida
Producer: Mayumi Amano
Director of photography: Takayuki Shida
Production designer: Shimpei Inoue
Music: Yuko Sebu
Editor: Ryo Hayano
Sales: Pia Film Festival
No rating, 90 minutes