New York Asian 2016 Review: WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY! Mixes Broad Comedy with Ozu's Legacy

Contributing Writer; Chile, Santiago de Chile (@jaimegrijalba)
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New York Asian 2016 Review: WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY! Mixes Broad Comedy with Ozu's Legacy

Yôji Yamada is a director known for retreading and reusing elements, both visual and in terms of plot, being the director of many series of movies that have been done across decades.

While he really hasn't made a new series since the end of his Samurai Trilogy in 2006, he has recently favored the family chamber drama above any other, and in particular, he has decided to make countless references to the cinema of Yasujiro Ozu, being his most blatant a remake of the classic Tokyo Story, made in 2013 as Tokyo Family, which could be described as an homage as well as a demonstration of how little has changed in 60 years of Japanese family life. In his latest film, Yamada goes right into the same territory, but this time he decides to add some comedy.

The film's opening clearly states the tone in which this movie will settle, as it starts with a phone conversation between the pathriarch of the house and his daughter-in-law, which involves confusing voices, insults and an overall sense that this old man likes things the way they are and nothing will change. When he arrives home, after some drinks, and is received by his wife, he is reminded that it's her birthday, so he asks what she'd like as a present. The old woman gets something from a drawer and hands it to him, asking to sign it: they're divorce papers. We look at his frozen agape face, the face of both incredulity and absolute ridiculousness. The calm nature in which this all happens makes it funnier, and it's honestly a mode that never leaves the film.

The way that the film is shot is certainly completely different when compared to the absolute and rigid style of Ozu, but there's something about the editing, the settings (the bar, the house, and little else) and the overall feeling of situations and the idea of traditional families that transpires an absolute admiration of the true Japanese master.

And let's not forget that Ozu also directed the funniest comedies in the Japanese language, from the silent era to his later color days, and this feels both like a continuation as much as an evolution, when the themes of divorce and female empowerment are in the mix. It's a really fun time to spend with the incredulous grandfather, the calm and sweet grandmother, the mother (who gets more and more revolutionary when confronted with the situation), the father who brings the slapstick to the forefront, and a bunch of characters that bring different kinds of comedy to the mix.

It is ultimately a sweet and simple film, one that you can laugh with, one with some touches of morality, but that never leaves you completely, it brings a smile to your face and your heart, specially as it starts to end and we can see one of the main characters stare longingly at a TV. The character is watching the ending of Tokyo Story, and it feels fitting, even if a bit too blunt as a reference, specially when the director has just remade the movie.

But, hey, it's Yamada, and we're used to his ticks, and honestly, I didn't mind to watch one of the most beautiful endings ever put to film in the ending in one of the most entertaining films that I've seen this year.

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JapanYôji Yamada