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Harmonium
(Fuchi nu tatsu)

Kôji Fukada

Winner of the Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, Harmonium marks the breakout moment for Japanese director Kôji Fukada, whose work has previously been limited to festival outings in the UK. Told in a deceptively gentle way, this disquieting thriller carefully illustrates how relationships are never quite what they seem and how deep unhappiness can exist under the surface of normal life.

"...this disquieting thriller carefully illustrates how relationships are never quite what they seem..."

Middle-aged couple Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and his wife Akié (Mariko Tsutsui) live a nice middle-class life with their young daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa). Their days are pretty ordinary as they cycle through the usual domestic routine of school, work, and family mealtimes. When Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), appears on their doorstep, recently released from prison and looking for a job and a place to stay, Toshio feels bound to help him. Gradually though, the stranger’s presence fundamentally changes the family dynamic and reveals cracks which perhaps were always there. As the mysterious Yusaka creepily begins to insert himself into the household and into the affections of both mother and daughter, you know this story is definitely not going to end well.

The family drama is a familiar subject in Japanese cinema but in Fukada’s hands, it becomes a troubling tale of how fragile the bonds are between husband and wife or parent and child. Like the discordant instrument little Hotaru is learning to play, Harmonium shows how life is a constant delicate balance between light and dark, and we should never take what we have for granted.