Last week, I watched Family Romance, LLC, a Japanese-language film that premiered on Mubi, written and directed by Werner Herzog who I think is also the movie’s cameraman and cinematographer. You get to see him at the beginning of the film where he introduces you to the movie and the inspiration behind it and at the end of the film, in a Q&A.
The film opens at a park where a man in a suit waits for someone. When a young woman walks past him for the fourth or fifth time, each time trying to sneak a peek at him, he calls her name and approaches. Her name is Mahiro and he is Yuichi Ishii, her father. It’s an awkward meeting with Mahiro constantly sneaking glances at him as he tries to keep the meeting lively while looking at the cherry blossoms or watching a group of re-enactors play out a fight scene and then later, a hara-kiri.
During this meeting, he tells her that he and her mother met and fell in love, but when Mahiro was a baby, he left and now he has another family of his own. Mahiro doesn’t quite react to this. It’s all still awkward, this initial meeting between a daughter and the father she never knew.
“At Family Romance, we are not allowed to love or be loved.”
Only Ichii isn’t her father at all. When he visits Mahiro’s mother at her home, he tells her how the meeting went and she pays him for his services. Ichii, it turns out, owns Family Romance LLC, a company were relationships is a business.
Need someone to stand in place of your alcoholic father at your wedding? Family Romance, LLC has the man for you. Need to look important as you walk along a busy street with paparazzi trailing and taking pictures of you as if you’re famous? Family Romance, LLC will make your social media go viral.
Unfortunately for Ichii, a father simply doesn’t “meet” his daughter one time. He’s hired to meet with Mahiro again and again until – you guessed it – the young woman gets attached to him and soon, we find him asking a funeral director if a live man can fit inside the casket comfortably for a short time.
It’s a brilliant premise, this comfort for hire business model, and one that Herzog covers because it’s based on a real business model in Japan. While some viewers may find that scenes meander a bit too long, it still works because even though Herzog gave the actors the important elements or dialogue required for a scene, he also gave them free rein to go about it, and even an unplanned interruption makes it into the final cut.
The movie certainly made me think and here I am, a week later, writing my review because I like films that make me think and wonder what happens next in the lives of the characters after the movie ends. I hope you’ll check it out.
Family Romance, LLC is now playing on Mubi.
Below is a review and a more in-depth study of the film: