A film of quiet menace and tangible intrigue, Koji Fukada's Harmonium is a bleak, yet engrossing story about the slow disintegration of a family unit, which begins to unravel due to the arrival of Yasaka, an ex-con and old acquaintance of the paternal figure of the family, Toshio, One of the most well-constructed narratives of the year, the details of which I will not venture into here, Harmonium exhibits the isolation and solitude evident in everyday life which many of us take for granted, deconstructing how marriage, maternal and paternal relationship with children, and friendships can often be void of true emotional commitment, empathy, and sacrifice, with personal obligation alone, due to these defined structures and expectations that lie within, never being solely enough. Fukada's Harmonium is a startling and bleak reminder that these societal defined definitions- father, daughter, friend, husband, wife, are not merely enough if they aren't continuously instilled with the same vigor for connection and empathy as they were during formation, with the film providing a beautiful yet bleak deconstruction of how people can become isolated emotionally despite having an abundance of people around them physically. Introducing the viewer to the family early on, Fukada's lens features a heavy use of symmetry in its compositions, visually encapsulating the structured family unit which Toshio heads. This structured household, while seemingly elegant and efficient, is entrenched with an underlying coldness when it comes to Toshio's paternal nature, as the film's showcases a man whom while kind, feels detached from his wife and daughter on an emotional level, driven simply by his work to his family, though we eventually learn he has a secret. The arrival of Yasaka only further strengthens and expands this detachment, with Yasaka being introduced as a far warmer character, one whose more open about his emotions and inquisitive about Toshio's family, seemingly showing a genuine curiosity about both Toshio's wife and daughter's well-being. With this arrival, the visual symmetry of the film begins to slowly dissipate, with Yasaka's presence revealing the cracks and strains in the family dynamics of this household, showing how Toshio and his wife lack any true form of open, and honest communication. Remencient of Pasolini's Teorema, the arrival of Yasaka breeds strife among the family, yet as the film evolves through its dense and well-designed narrative, one begins to realize that Yasaka himself, while a malevolent force, is not solely to blame for the tragedy and emotional conflict, as Toshio's negligence and general deflection of emotion, pain or conflict, set the seeds in motion for the grim and tragic fate that comes to pass for this family. Koji Fukada's Harmonium's treatment of time and how the past effects the present is one of the film's more interesting assertions, detailing in Toshio a character who has managed to subvert or displace his own sense of guilt or emotional trauma about his past through what he perceives is fulfilling his societal obligations- providing for his family. His past has come to effect his present, with Harmonium detailing the slow erosion of connection and push towards isolation which internal strife can have on external relationships, as Toshio's deep-seeded guilt related to his past with Yasaka has left him emotional isolated, which in turn deeply erodes the connection he has with his wife and their daughter. The film's ending, one which I won't spoil here, is a dire, yet fitting conclusion to this whirlwind journey of emotional anguish, internal strife, and solitude, with Toshio finally confronted with a deep-seeded sense of emotional pain and guilt which he can't displace or deflect introspectively, with his past mistakes and internalization of guilt coming full circle to eviscerate his present semblance of happiness through tragedy. Featuring a gripping and well-designed narrative, Koji Fukada's Harmonium is an elegantly crafted story of internalized trauma, isolation, and the consequences of past mistakes, a film which is certain to stun many viewers with its tenacious approach to exposing the tragic effect which emotional isolation can have on the individual.
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