Kazoku g?mu [The Family Game] (1983) directed by Morita Yoshimitsu
Initial Discussion Question – How can you describe this film in a single sentence? What is the overarching theme and the issue brought up by the film?
An unsuccessful middle school student Shigeyuki gradually develops his positive identity within the community he lives in (both family and school). The climax of the story arrives when he finally passes the entrance exam of a top high school in the region. This basic plot is narrated through an archetype story pattern: “a stranger visits a dysfunctional family” and galvanizes the family members to come to term with problems.
In a similar pattern, for example, Visitor Q (2001) directed by Miike Takashi also deals with a bleak family’s issues, by virtue of a strange guest who entrenches in the realm of family life.
The Numata family —
Younger brother Shigeyuki – He has struggled with his school work. In the beginning his grade is the 9th from the bottom of the entire class. As the second son of the family, he is somewhat spoiled and good for nothing. Later his grade goes upward, thanks to Yoshimoto’s unique tutorial. He even learns from Yoshimoto how to fight with his peer Tsuchiya.
Older brother Shin’ichi – He is a student of the region’s top high school. Generally he looks down upon his younger brother.
Father – He hires Yoshimoto, by offering a seemingly good monetary incentive to teach Shigeyuki.
Mother – She is relatively cheerful in the family and fussy about Shigeyuki. Although he is not successful like Shin’ichi, she tends to dote on him. As a typical Japanese housewife, she is a little frustrated and afraid of her husband.
Tutor Yoshimoto (played by a famous actor Matsuda Y?saku) – He tutors Shigeyuki, though he is from a third-class university. He is a little peculiar but drastically changes Shigeyuki’s moribund life style. At times he displays homosexual tendency but also works as a part-time gigolo.
Symbolic elements – how can we interpret each of these?
– Noise in the family in the opening scene
– Pancreas problem of Shigeyuki
– Dinner table – not facing each other
– The socio-cultural tendencies of the 1980s – Spartan education, dysfunctional nuclear family, absence of genuine communication, money-oriented mentality (as prevalent in father), grade-oriented school education (ranking, point revealed in class), 80s fashion, hairstyle, soy milk, artificial turf ground of Shigeyuki’s school etc.
– Abrupt beating by Yoshimoto
– Even when the family celebrates Shigeyuki who has passed the entrance exam, they never sit together face to face on the dinner table.
– Yoshimoto who compulsively overthrows the table at the cerebration for Shigeyuki. As shown in the messy image of scattered foods, drinks may suggest the excess of material-oriented consumer culture (compare the treatment of foods with that of Tampopo). Yoshimoto’s anger points at the family’s patriarchal structure, capitalist pragmatism, naiveté, and so forth.
– Yoshimoto comes and goes crossing the river by taking the boat.
– In the last scene, everyone falls asleep, and the father is absent in the house; the noise of helicopter lingers on over the apartment building.
– Signs of modernity and postmodernity — waterway, newly developed water-front district and factories, chimney with smoke, bus, high-rise condominium/apartment, inside the boxy house (kitchen, living room, and bedroom), wine on the dinner table, English class scenes at middle school. Compare these elements with the images of modernity in the other films we have watched, for example, those by Ozu and Kurosawa.
– Camera – family tends to be captured by voyeuristic perspectives. What is the implication?
– The focused foreground, blurred background, shot from top etc. Consider how the camera (instead of the script) creates its own language.