(Kôji Fukada, 2016)
Harmonium screens at the AMC River East on Sunday, October 23 at 5:30PM and Monday, October 24 at 8:45PM. For additional ticketing information, refer to the Chicago International Film Festival website here.
Kôji Fukada’s Harmonium is a horror film that does not believe in monsters as feral, otherworldly creatures but as the living, breathing, and unassuming friend by your side.
The film details the arrival of Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), compromising the quiet if not especially eventful day-to-day of a working class family, including the patriarch Toshio (Kanji Furutachi), his wife Akie (Mariko Tsutsui), and their young daughter, Hotaru (Monome Shinokawa). Fukada directs much of the picture with a detached, cerebral quality, composing acutely detailed frames with characters so often captured at a great distance from the camera, coming onto the foreground in an eerie and captivating way. It’s the theory in which the first half of the film is founded on, whereby Yasaka lives with the family despite protest from Akie. She eventually warms to him, particularly as Yasaka helps Hotaru with her harmonium lessons, creating a bond within between the three that seems to be absent with Toshio.
The formal component of having characters move from the background to the foreground of each frame feeds into the thematic ambitions of the film, as so much of Harmonium revolves on concerns of clarity and perception. Anxieties arise, as Akie and Yasaka grow increasingly fond of one another while Toshio, initially, functions largely at the periphery of the frame. Fukada keeps you perpetually on edge, generating tension from how the cumulative details of Yasaka’s past shapes Akie’s perception of the man.
A film by a lesser filmmaker would’ve allowed for showcases of histrionics from its actors and allowed them to dictate the trajectory of the picture, but Fukada reigns in the performances for something more eerie and contained, relying on the cumulative effect of subtle gestures to create something so unexpectedly leveling and terrifying.