Friday, August 7, 2009

REVIEW: Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers!

(Funuke domo, kanashimi no ai wo misero)

Released: 2007

Daihachi Yoshida

Eriko Sato

Aimi Satsukawa
Masatoshi Nagase
Hiromi Nagasaku

Running time: 112 min.

Reviewed by Eric Evans

You think your family is screwed up? After meeting the Wago clan they may not seem so annoying.

"Funuke Domo, Kanashimi no Ai o Misero" (Literally translated, "Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers") was described in the Cannes Film Festival press as "a black comedy about a dysfunctional family." Having watched it–endured it, more like–I'd say calling it a black comedy is something of an understatement. First-time director Daihachi Yoshida creates a compelling, occasionally terrifying look into the most dysfunctional family in Japan. Like a stage play, the bulk of the action takes place in just a few rooms at the family home in the country. The drama is largely between four characters: Surly and withdrawn older brother Shinji (Masatoshi Nagase), his relentlessly upbeat wife Machiko (Hiromi Nagasaku), high school student/younger sister Kiyomi (Aimi Satsukawa) and Sadist older sister Sumika (Eriko Sato). The family reunites following the unexpected demise of both parents, but this is no support system in a time of grief. If anything, Kiyomi seems more distraught at the thought of her older sister's return than the death of her parents. Sumika, who years earlier abandoned the rural life for a shot at acting stardom in Tokyo, has returned home to see about her inheritance and wastes no time reasserting herself as head of the household through systematic bullying and psychological intimidation. Sumika uses any methods necessary to keep her hold on Shinji and Kiyomi, and either ignores or belittles Machiko. The movie takes it time revealing the backstory of these relationships, periodically flashing back in time a few years to show how Sumika established herself as such a dominant force in the family. How each of them responded to her then tells us a bit about why they respond as they do now. Some of those dynamics remain the same while others have changed, and that friction gives the film its many surprises.

Yoshida has crafted a movie which induces first curiosity, then squirming, then outright audience discomfort. It's nominally a drama, but Yoshida employs angles and shots in the manner of a horror movie, and suspense is built through the horrible anticipation of what this monster woman will do to her family next. All the actors are well cast and effective, but Sato is mesmerizing. It's easy to slip into hyperbole here, but her Sumiko is a sociopath on par with anything Joe Pesci's done in "Goodfellas" or "Casino", and close enough to Hannibal Lecter territory that I'm unashamed to make the comparison. Considering her most prominent role prior to this was as the titular robotic sexpot in "Cutie Honey"--not exactly Oscar bait!--her performance is shocking in its complexity and insidious charm.

If this review makes "Funuke Show Some Love, You Losers" sound unpleasant, well, that's not inaccurate. It's a difficult film to watch but an easy film to appreciate.

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