Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Japan/Netherlands-Hong Kong. 119min..

Taking a break from his regular diet of fantasy and horror, Japan’s Kiyoshi Kurosawa delivers here a fierce indictment of modern-day Japan. Kurosawa has often hinted, in earlier pictures, that he smells something rotten in his homeland, and this time he tackles the issue front-on - by the time he has finished, there he is precious little hope left.

Obviously representing Japan, the Sasaki family is headed by Ryuhei Sasaki (Kagawa) who is sacked from his job as administration chief of a thriving business, to be replaced by a Chinese upstart who is willing to settle for a third of his salary. Married with two sons, and as rigid and straightlaced as the head of a Japanese family can possibly be, he does not admit what has just happened and goes out every day to walk the streets in search of work where he meets others in a similar situation.

From this point on, Kurosawa documents the steady but implacable process which ultimately leaves Ryuhei without a shred of his previous self-respect and with no prospect to restore it. His older son, Takashi (Koyanagi), leaves home to join the American army and is shipped to the Middle East. His younger son, Kenji (Inowaki), uses his lunch money to pay for the piano lessons his father has arbitrarily denied him. Eve n his meek wife Megumi (Koizumi), starts to rebel. Continuing the saga of defeat, a burglar (Kurosawa regular Koji Yakusho in a brilliant cameo) breaks into the Sasaki home, only to confess that he is a total failure in every respect, as a person and criminal.

Told in a precise, ironic tone that keeps the audience at arm’s length and focuses on the metaphor rather than the separate characters, the grimness of the tale often blunts its message. If this is comedy, it is a very black, forbidding one, each scene adding insult to the injuries of modern Japanese society. At school they teach good manners but the teacher reads porno mangas; daddy hates lying but does it all the time, as does everyone else around him; a hit-and-run driver is only too happy to leave his victim on the road if no one notices; the Chinese steal jobs and America takes away the kids. There is no glimmer of hope in what seems, but is not, a perfectly organized society.

Kyoko Koizumi’s beautifully prim, controlled housewife stands out in a generally excellent cast, supported by polished art direction and accurate, perfectly shot and framed camera work. Kurosawa’s main problem is the pace, which slackens considerably in the second half and meanders towards the end in a desperate search for a satisfactory ending. A little pruning could have helped here.

Production companies
Entertainment Farm
Fortissimo Films
Hakuhodo DY Media Partners

Worldwide distribution
Fortissimo Films
(31) 20 627 3215

Yukie Kito
Wouter Barendrecht

Screen play
Max Mannix
Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Sachiko Tanaka

Akiko Ashizawa

Production design
Tomoyuki Maruo
Tomoe Matsumoto

Koichi Takahashi

Kazumasa Hashimoto

Main cast
Teruyuki Kagawa
Kyoko Koizumi
Yu Koyanagi
Kai Inowaki
Haruka Igawa
Kanji Tsuda
Koji Yakusho