Harmonium Screen 88 of 16 reviews

Harmonium

2016

Harmonium Poster
  • Among the film’s excellent performances, Mariko Tsutsui deserves extra praise—burdened with the task of playing a woman who physically and mentally unravels over time, she consistently manages to humanize Akie’s fractured interiority and erratic behavior, even when she decides to take the film to it’s horrifying, irreversible conclusion.

  • The film has something of the feeling of a cold mathematical demonstration, which may leave viewers feeling short-changed—and which may make Harmonium, ultimately, the kind of bad dream that doesn’t get under your skin, but dissolves soon after you’ve woken. What does gives Harmonium a more resonant charge is the cast.

  • Fukada’s cautious visual tone doesn’t really change, but the characters do, twisting under pressure and closing in on madness. There are base ingredients from Kiyoshi Kurosawa and Park Chan-wook in the mix, but Fukada’s register is decidedly unsensational, even secretive... Just as in the best old-school, Cain-style noir, Fukada’s film is eloquent about the fragile privileges of modern urban life and the hidden lies it can be built upon.

  • Fukada works in a rapt and lucid hyper-textural style that suggests a merging of the sensibilities of Alfred Hitchcock and Yasujirô Ozu. Fukada's fluid, shadowy, and multi-planed framing of power relationships suggests the films of the former, while his quietly attentive grasp of domestic quotidian suggests those of the latter. The result is a film that's simultaneously lush and spare, lingering on the precipice of thriller terrain and informing certain gestures and objects with portent.

  • This highly accomplished Japanese drama is well worth watching for those with the stomach for a cold, bitter, intoxicating deep drink of bleak... Although the story unfolds at a steady pace over two hours, the filmmaking is sufficiently elegant and metronomically efficient as to make every minute gripping, especially after the tragic twist halfway through the story.

  • Curious details such as a young Hotaru’s concern for the fate of female spiders who sacrifice themselves for the sake of their offspring... take on an acute retroactive intrigue, suggesting that the fate of these characters lies well outside the bounds of corporeal consequence. If by the end Fukada seems to be encouraging the viewer to question the veracity of what they’ve seen and heard, the results are no less powerful for such ambiguities.

  • It’s seldom a good sign in the movies when a friend from the past suddenly resurfaces after a years-long absence. So begins Koji Fukada’s return-of-the-repressed family drama, which takes a power drill to your nerves and emotions without ever misplacing its sense of compassion.

  • Not many filmmakers would be able to pull off Fukada’s bolder cinematic conceits (a symbolic use of the color red, an unexpected leap-forward in time, an abrupt and daringly ambiguous ending) but every such decision seems pressed to the service of illustrating a karmic cycle of crime, punishment, and redemption that feels firmly rooted in believable character psychology and a realistic social milieu. This haunting film is one of the great Japanese exports of recent years.

  • A quietly combustible tale of punishment and crime set in motion when a family lets a mysterious man move in with them, “Harmonium” makes the viewer question neat causal equations of sin, retribution, and atonement. Director-writer Koji Fukada offers an off-kilter take on that most venerable of Japanese genres — the family drama. In the process of revealing hidden strains in marital life and parenting, he ponders the enigma of human motives.

  • There are many components that make Harmonium unexpectedly engrossing, but chief among them is its sense of space. With some exceptions, most of the film takes place within the family home, a setting that becomes familiar as the narrative unfolds. It feels fully lived in, something borne out by Fukada’s extensive use of unfussy but fairly rigorous compositions throughout.

  • “For me, family is an absurdity,” Fukada says in the publicity materials for “Harmonium,” a rigorously grim drama that glides, slowly and inexorably, toward proving his point. Yet the atmosphere of dread that Fukada tends with such ruthless precision depends not on creepy camera moves or other visual trickery. Instead, this chilly tale of violent secrets and unvoiced misery relies heavily on the skill of actors who seem to know that one false move could tip the whole enterprise into comedy.

  • Recalling the family films of Hirokazu Koreeda or even Yasujiro Ozu, with its camera an aloof observer of subtle and understated interactions, Harmonium is certainly a domestic drama – but it is also something much darker, capturing the violence and vindictiveness latent in family structures with an austere tension.

  • The staging can be clumsy, especially in the second half (the young man is a contrivance, seemingly oblivious to the effect all his plot exposition is having), but the undercurrents keep it going and the sadness, in the end - after the harmonium tries and fails to play titular deus ex machina - is profound.

  • A slow first hour builds to a deeply involving and uncannily affecting second half in Japanese director Koji Fukada‘s chilly and chilling examination of familial guilt... Fukada’s deliberate pacing and deceptively indifferent shooting style might seem off-putting at first, but that’s only before we realize that this nuclear family story is actually a nuclear explosion, played out in extreme, minutely observed slow-motion.

  • So much of the first act of the film is concerned with understanding Yasaka’s past and Hotaru’s early interest in learning to play a harmonium that Kurosawa’s Tokyo Sonata kept coming to mind. It’d be cruel to reveal where Fukada takes the film from here, but I was consistently taken aback but the audacity of his decisions, both narratively and formally, and I’m now more than a bit interested in visiting his (purportedly Rohmerian!) back catalog.

  • Sight & Sound: Nick Pinkerton
    April 28, 2017 | June 2017 Issue (pp. 65-66)

    The care taken with the movie's structural aspects is evident – indeed, you can see the exposed I-beams everywhere – but the result is of more interest as clean draughtsmanship than as a means to convey ideas or feeling. The actors are fine, individually, and Tsutsui is considerably more than that, but they seem to be gasping in the thin air of Fukada's mannered mise en scène – city streets are eerily empty throughout, as though these characters are among the last people alive.

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