Funuke: Show Some Love, You Losers! first published by Film4
Summary: Daihachi Yoshida’s directorial debut is a black domestic dramedy in which family frictions seek artistic outlets.
Review: The dysfunctional family is a traditional subject for Japanese cinema that perhaps achieved its best known and most refined form in Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story (1953). Daihachi Yoshida’s Funuke: Show Some Love, You Losers! (Funuke domo, kanashimi no ai wo misero) may also feature a self-absorbed daughter living in the city who responds to parental death with ingratitude, indifference and concern only for the potential inheritance – but as one character puts it early on in the film, “don’t compare us to Tokyo”. You would be unlikely to find sibling incest, schoolgirl prostitution and attempted parricide in the sedate classicism of Ozu, making Funuke more akin to the full-on domestic meltdowns of later films like Sogo Ishii’s Crazy Family (1984) or Takashi Miike’s The Happiness of the Katakuris (2001) and Visitor Q (2001).
After the death of her parents in a freak road accident involving a cat, aspiring actress Sumika (Eriko Sato) returns from a four-year stay in Tokyo to the rural family home, where she immediately begins terrorising her siblings – shy younger sister Kiyomi (Aimi Satsukawa), tormented older stepbrother Shinji (Masatoshi Nagase), and Shinji’s downtrodden but relentlessly upbeat new wife Machiko (Hiromi Nagasaku). Needy, deluded and obsessively driven, Sumika has a strange emotional hold over Shinji, matched only by the pathological grudge that she harbours against Kiyomi for all her own failings.
Forced into a prolonged home stay when her Tokyo living allowance is discontinued, Sumika enters correspondence with an up-and-coming film director (Nobumichi Tosa) whose sudden interest might just be her ticket out of the sticks and into the limelight – but as a series of flashbacks reveals the origins of all the family’s problems, it will emerge that Sumika is not the only monster in the Wago household, and that the ties that bind are not so easily unknotted.
There is ambition, guilt and rivalry aplenty in this tawdry tale of two sisters (and an in-law) on the verge of a nervous breakdown. On the surface Sumika, Kiyomi and Machiko could not be more different, but in fact each seeks to sublimate her feelings through artistic expression. Sumika will do anything to fulfil her vain dream of becoming “an actress beyond compare”, and lashes out at anyone she perceives to be an impediment to her progress. Quiet, withdrawn Kiyomi compulsively collects her family’s woes as material for the horror mangas that she secretly draws. And even Machiko, an orphaned child turned 30-year-old virgin, so manically desires family togetherness that she grins her way with unhinged cheeriness through every psychological and physical indignity that she must endure in her loveless and abusive marriage, while chanelling her otherwise unspoken frustrations into the creation of frighteningly hideous dolls. For all the aggression that he directs at his wife, Shinji cuts a powerless and terrified figure when faced with the fraught psychic energy of his stepsisters, and is reduced by their chaos-causing cattiness to playing the pussy.
Despite some beautiful rural landscapes and occasional touches of visual flair (including a sequence near the end that unfolds in the multiple frames of a manga comic), for the most part Yoshida’s directorial debut shows all the aesthetic flatness of one of the television soaps that Machiko habitually watches. Even the bleached-out flashbacks are more bland than stylish, while the story itself is unashamed melodrama, not so much advancing its characters’ lives through crisis as merely unpeeling their darkest, daftest secrets one by one. Just as well, then, that the performances are so fine-tuned, capturing the comicbook grotesquery of these larger-than-life nobodies with surprising subtlety. And the element of ‘the unexpected’, said by Sumika to be a necessary part of filmmaking magic, will certainly make a jaw-dropping appearance in the final scenes of semi-supernatural derangement – even if the film takes a little too long to get so far.
In a nusthell: This dark comedy is more twisted (and twisty) than it first appears, but as with any family album, it is a few individual scenes that make it memorable rather than the whole, overlong package.
© Anton Bitel