Judge William Lee asked for more towels.
Welcome to our house.
Koji Fukada's understated comedy Hospitalité probably contains more social bite for its domestic audience than it does for North American viewers but its rebuke of xenophobia will have universal resonance. The movie is a pleasant reminder that upsetting the normal routine can lead to a positive change in our lives. A little unexpected chaos can also be a source of sly amusement.
Facts of the Case
Mikio Kobayashi (Kenji Yamauchi) lives quietly with his wife, daughter and divorced sister above his small printing press operation in Tokyo. When self-described slacker Kagawa (Kanji Furutachi) shows up, he talks his way not only into a job with Mikio but also into room and board with the family. Soon after, Kagawa's wife, friends and strangers are also enjoying the hospitality of the Kobayashi home thanks to Kagawa's charity. Their visitor's ingratiating presence tests the Kobayashi couple's patience but also exposes the discontent in their monotonous life.
From time to time in Fukada's movie, I felt a little uneasy watching the protagonists get walked upon by their employee and lodger. Kagawa is a mixture of sensible and unpredictable. The fortunate timing of his arriving on the scene just as Mikio needs extra help and his relaxed but observant demeanor make him appear to be a positive force. However, his tendency to initiate odd schemes that affect his hosts created a certain level of suspicion. The movie perhaps pushed two of my personal buttons with this relationship dynamic. The first is the impulsive character that doesn't get called for his jerkiness. The second is the passive protagonist who quietly lets others takes liberties at his expense.
Fortunately, Hospitalité has more up its sleeve than a simple "the squares have to learn to let their hair down" lesson. Mikio and his wife Natsuki (Kiki Sugino) have their own secrets that have been allowed to fester in their comfortable but dull marriage. Kagawa has a knack for teasing out these repressed and hidden motivations and when he gets involved in the couple's personal lives it isn't immediately clear what he's up to. With the addition of his Caucasian wife Annabelle (Bryerly Long) the house doesn't quite become a powder keg of emotions but the heat is certainly turned up on some simmering feelings.
Kagawa is the essential character of this story and Kanji Furutachi's portrayal is a tricky task of balancing his comically positive mood against the possibility that he's a destructive force. His unorthodox behavior creates the tension that upsets the routine of Mikio and Natsuki who are caught in-between enabling Kagawa's liberal attitude and preserving the safe ways of their community. The neighborhood watch committee repeatedly invites the couple to their meetings to strategize how to keep outsiders at bay. The husband and wife come across as the typically reserved Japanese couple and it is to the actors' credit that they remain sympathetic even when they appear to be pushovers. Their buried feelings slowly come to the surface and their story arcs develop in a believable manner.
The DVD is a really good-looking affair from Film Movement. The standard def 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen image is bright and clean with splashes of colors that are strong against a generally neutral color palette. A slight warmer color bias can be seen in the interior scenes, especially around the printing press where yellows get a boost. The lighting style shows off background detail all through the frame whether it appears to be naturally lit exteriors or crowded and convincingly interiors. Night scenes are shrouded in darkness with deep, impenetrable shadows.
Audio comes in a respectable Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix. The movie uses an uncomplicated soundscape but voices come across with enough clarity that it's easy to discern between characters. The mechanical sound effects from the printing press and occasional environmental noise are crisp and well balanced with dialogue. Optional English subtitles are available.
Bonus material specific to the feature are limited to biographies for the director and three main cast members presented on text screens. A short excerpt from an interview with the director is printed on the inside of the cover.
This Film Movement release also comes with the 11-minute short film Miyuki (2010), written and directed by Will McCord. Dana Shiraki (Once More With Feeling) stars as the title character, a Japanese woman living in New York using the Internet to meet new friends. It's an enjoyable film with a handsome cast and believable performances.
Not all comedies inspire riotous laughter and Hospitalité certainly delivers its humor in a low-key manner. One character's revolutionary agenda and how it gradually changes the environment of the film's protagonists can inspire chuckles with its gentle absurdity or it can create discomfort with the accompanying loss of control. Writer-director Koji Fukada walks a fine line with his film, but I was pleased with where he took the story. The film makes a statement about living in a close-minded community and I was surprised that my own prejudices about certain characters were also challenged.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
• Bonus Film
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