Chicago International Film Festival 2016: Harmonium
By Andrea Thompson
“Harmonium” is a film that teeters on the cusp of perfection, but just barely falls short. That things begin ordinarily enough makes it no less powerful. Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and Akié (Mario Tsutsui) are a married couple raising their adorable young daughter Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa) and settled into a comfortable routine despite the cracks in the familial foundation, which are so ordinary and accepted that neither spouse considers them worth remarking on. That is, not until the arrival of Toshio's old friend, the mysterious Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), recently released from prison. Soon, both Toshio and Akié are using Yasaka as a respite from the family's dysfunctions, and Hotaru suffers the consequences. The result is Toshio and Akié's dynamic ironically being altered for the better to care for their daughter in the aftermath. It's just not altered enough. Writer-director Kôji Fukada expertly builds a slow burn in the film's first half that's as beautiful as it is chilling, culminating in the second half, wherein all the guilt and tragedy brutally come home to roost. Fukada always keeps the muted but turbulent emotions firmly grounded in reality, which only becomes a problem during the climax. With so much of a buildup, leaving so much unknown feels like a disservice, and even more of a letdown when coupled with the movie's unrelenting bleakness. But the rest of “Harmonium” is so exquisitely crafted, featuring such quietly magnificent acting, editing, and direction, that it barely sullies the emotional maelstrom “Harmonium” leaves swirling in its wake.