A Japanese family’s humdrum daily routine is fatefully upset by the arrival of a stranger from the father’s past, in this slow-burning dramatic thriller.
Koji Fukada's latest film is both a contemporary Japanese drama and a chilling thriller with aspects of Greek tragedy. In its depiction of a seemingly ordinary family, Harmonium posits that solitude is part of the inner essence of human beings, and it studies what happens when that solitude erupts in sudden violence.
Marital life is uneventful for Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and Akie (Mariko Tsutsui). Each day goes by as if according to a well-known script. Toshio runs a machinery workshop out of his house, and the only time he spends with his wife and young daughter is when the family sits together almost wordlessly around the dining table. They go on this way, seemingly content to live as strangers to one another, until one day when, in front of Toshio's shop, there appears a clean-faced man in a white shirt. It's Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), an old friend of Toshio's who has just gotten out of prison. His gentle manners cannot conceal his disquieting presence; he is clearly a harbinger of dark times.
And catastrophe does indeed soon fall on the family, but not in the way one might expect. A stranger at the door, a vicious love triangle, a mysterious past, and an innocent girl: these are all classic thriller elements, but under Fukada's brilliant direction, all narrative rules are subverted. The result is a powerful tale of crime and punishment that renders deep sorrows and passions with quiet cinematic precision.