We join an ordinary family of three at the beginning of an ordinary day. Married couple Toshio and Akie (Kanji Furutachi and Mariko Tsutsui) own a small factory below their home. Their daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa) is a budding musician, and clumsily practises showtunes on their cheap harmonium. When Toshio unexpectedly employs an old friend, and invites him to stay with them, Akie is displeased, especially when Toshio reveals that the man has recently been released from prison and a murder charge. However, she eventually warms to the visitor, even as his presence within their home and her husband’s part in the murder become more and more dangerous. Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano) is gradually revealed to be more than he seems, threatening to tear the family apart when he begins an affair with Akie.
Using thematic echoes of his previous works, especially 2010’s Hospitalite, director Kōji Fukada expertly balances a blend of accomplished performances with nuanced visual cues to create a subtle family drama that rapidly spirals into a Greek tragedy. In the opening breakfast scene, mother and daughter pray on one side of the table while the father begins his meal opposite them. From the outset, Fukada is setting up the invisible divides in this small family, and visualises the minute cracks that will become so significant later on. There are other visual metaphors too, such as when Yasaka lustfully approaches Akie, removing his white shirt to reveal a blood red one underneath. Played with understated menace by veteran thespian Asano, Yasaka dominates every scene, even those in which he is absent. He is as much of a mystery to us as he is to Akie.
Over all of this plays Hotaru’s harmonium, whose shrill soundtrack begins comically, but comes increasingly to represent a loss of innocence and the repetitive spiral of generational guilt. Fukada does well to navigate the complex themes of the story without lapsing into melodrama. After receiving acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival, Harmonium will undoubtedly enjoy a successful international run.
Harmonium is released nationwide on 5th May 2017.
Watch the trailer for Harmonium here: