Director Yoshimitsu Morita’s award-winning black-comedy about a stereotypical Japanese family in modern, 1980′s-era Japan has been brought to DVD by Geneon Entertainment’s new Foreign Film Favorites line. The Family Game, based on a novel by Yohei Honma, follows the difficult life of the Numata family as they struggle to get the kids a good education in order to survive in the world. Shigeyuki Numata is one of the lowest-ranking students in school and no tutor has been able to motivate him to do anything about it. That is until the family hires Yoshimoto to knock some sense (literally) into Shigeyuki’s head. The question is, can Yoshimoto’s unorthodox methods convince the underachiever to straighten up his act before High School entrance exams?
Audio: Japanese 2.0 DD
Extras: Two Theatrical Trailers, Foreign Film Favorites Previews
Notes: Review is based on a Screener copy of the final product.
Shigeyuki Numata (Ichirota Miyakawa) slacks off constantly. His older brother, Shinichi Numata (Junichi Tsujita), is a current student at the highly-praised Seibu High School. Their father, Kosuke Numata (Juzo Itami), is an alcoholic who lacks a backbone regarding situations that don’t include putting down his family. Their mother, Chikako Numata (Saori Yuki), gives in to babying her children rather than taking a stern stance. They are obviously a dysfunctional family and the tension within in the home is beginning to show. In steps new tutor Masaru Yoshimoto (Yusaku Matsuda) to change things not only for Shigeyuki, but for the entire family. With a rather eccentric personality and an offer from Kosuke of 10,000 yen for every one class-ranking Shigeyuki rises, the stage is set to revolutionize Shigeyuki’s view of the world in and out of the classroom.
Shigeyuki often acts like a bit of a brat, and this gets him into trouble. A school bully who he has been stuck in the same schools with since childhood often beats Shigeyuki up with a gang of peers backing him. At home he makes demands which his mother follows, like asking for a cup of tea, and then wastes what he was just given. And when Yoshimoto tells Shigeyuki to write down on a notepad any words he has trouble reading in a story, Shigeyuki fills two pages with the word dusk. But unlike everyone else who somewhat put up with Shigeyuki’s antics, Yoshimoto pops him hard in the face, causing Shigeyuki’s nose to bleed. Yoshimoto isn’t going to put up with Shigeyuki’s crap and isn’t simply going to go away like the others.
Masaru Yoshimoto’s approach on any subject is somewhat unusual, but he gets results. As Shigeyuki’s confidence and grades rise – plus the bonus of pissing off a certain bully because of this – Yoshimoto expands his teachings to other subjects that trouble Shigeyuki, like girls or how to defend himself. The family itself continues to be too wound up as Shinichi’s grades and desire to continue with his education drop off as steadily as Shigeyuki’s goes up. The boozing father’s constant barrage of insults towards others is still wearing away what used to be a close-knit family. Only Yoshimoto’s perverse actions can prevent this family from imploding.
The Family Game is an older title that you wouldn’t instantly think of seeing on DVD in America. The odd nature of the film’s story will not always be as easy to follow for those new to Japanese culture, but you can get into the heart of the film’s tale without a problem. The cinematography in The Family Game often mixes in what one may associate with a stage play rather than an actual movie. One scene with Shigeyuki and Yoshimoto studying goes dark and the older brother and mother are rolled into the frame in front of them to deliever a few lines of dialogue before being rolled back out. The occasional angle or choice of how the actors present themselves also stand out as something you wouldn’t normally expect. Overall, it helps the film and its somewhat odd nature.
The Family Game is an interesting comedy about Japanese family life and probably one that should be featured more often for those who enjoy studying other cultures. The film has been encoded from an HD master, and this really shows in the crispness of the video for a title from 1983. Subtitles present some minor errors in captialization and one scene that is left (possibly intentionally) unsubbed where Shigeyuki spies on two students. The only extras available are two theatrical trailers for the movie, but they do show how much the film has been improved with its new HD master transfer. The Family Game is a quaint little film and something to enjoy with your own family and friends.