Writer and director Hirokazu Kore-Eda serves up a contemporary tale of domestic split, familial responsibility and emotional closure, deftly handling moments of candid humour along with scenes of poignant seriousness. This is a genuinely funny and sometimes touching film, and Kirin Kiki as Ryota’s elderly mother Yoshiko is close to a revelation: tricky, sharp, humane and sensitive as she comforts and berates her son for his life decisions.
Ryota (Hiroshi Abe) is the hapless man-child at the centre of the story: an unorganised novelist with a gambling addiction, still trading on a writing prize won over a decade before, now unable to keep up payments on his young son’s child support or edge closer to winning the affections of his elegant ex-wife Kyoko (Yoko Make). He is a part-time private detective (and not a bad one), refusing a job writing manga comics so to preserve his commitment to quality literature. There has not been much in the way of new material lately. The death of his father and an incoming typhoon, however, gives Ryota the opportunity to rebuild ties with his family, as the storm encloses them in his mother’s house. Grievances, recriminations and disputes ensue, though the film is keen to depict these in minor key. There is barely a shout among the conversations, as the night develops into morning.
Kore-Eda expertly judges the comedy in each scene; he has an acute ear for surprising, witty dialogue and is helped along by fine performances from his cast. The film eschews sentimentality, never forgiving Ryota for his parental and career negligence nor judging him too harshly either. Taiyô Yoshizawa plays the son Shingo with an appropriate mixture of confusion and innocence. He struggles to understand the arrangement between his parents, which mirrors Ryota’s difficulty accepting the new settlement. Despite her intrinsic capacity for compassion, only Kyoko is desperate to move on. It is testament to the craft of the film that it seems impossible to deny her this dignity.