Harmonium (4 stars)

Harmonium

Riveting, prize-winning domestic thriller from Japanese director Kôji Fukada

Deceptively serene at its outset, but increasingly unpredictable and unforgiving as its story develops, this noirish Japanese thriller plays on the troubling truth that you can never quite know everything about the person you marry. Or how the long-buried past might reassert itself.

Akié (Mariko Tsutsui) is quiet, earnest and respectable, while her husband Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) has a moodier edge; the two have an adored young daughter and a modest business. When an old acquaintance of Toshio's appears in search of work, the household dynamic is thrown off in dramatic style.

Played by Japanese superstar Tadanobu Asano, Yasaka at first puts Akié off with his unorthodox personal habits; but he radiates a weird charisma, and offers her attention singularly lacking in her marriage. However, he also holds the key to certain long-kept secrets of her husband's history, the exposure of which will have life-altering consequences.

Showing tremendous assurance, writer-director Kôji Fukada deploys an attention-grabbing narrative structure that involves a daring leap part-way through. The film's second segment does drag a little, as the story expands far beyond initial expectations – but so riveting is its exploration of virtue, vengeance, moral flaws and just deserts that it's possible to forgive its slightly excessive length. And the shocks it intermittently provides are well worth the wait.

Performances are also top-notch, with Asano creating an antagonist who's appealing, frightening and darkly funny by turns, and Tsutsui accessing heartrending emotional depths in her portrayal of Akié. It's a little surprising that this Jury Prize-winner in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival last year hasn't yet been nabbed for a Hollywood remake; but those who treat themselves to it can certainly have a little inner fun casting their own Oscar-baiting English-language take.

Selected release from Fri 5 May.

Harmonium

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • 1h 58min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Kôji Fukada
  • Written by: Kôji Fukada
  • Cast: Mariko Tsutsui, Tadanobu Asano, Kanji Furutachi
  • UK release: 5 April 2017

Akie (Tsutsui) and Toshio (Furutachi)’s marriage is disrupted when Yasaka (Asano), an old acquaintance of Toshio, enters their lives. Noirish Japanese thriller with an attention-grabbing narrative structure; it drags a little in the second segment, but with top-notch performances it’s a riveting exploration of virtue…

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