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By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
The Family Game
Directed by Yoshimitsu Morita
Sony Music Distribution 03/84 DVD/VHS Feature Film
Yoshimitsu Morita's The Family Game, voted the best film of 1983 by Japanese critics, is set in contemporary Japan. According to ancient tradition in this society, families prosper through the triumphs of their children. The western ideal of competition is what animates parents to expect the very best from their offspring.
Shigeyuki (Ichirota Miyagawa) is a troubled teenager who is not doing well in school. His bourgeoisie father (Juzo Itami) is angry that he is not as successful as his older brother. Mother (Saori Yuki) pampers the boy, and he responds by playing the baby.
All that changes when Yoshimoto (Yusaka Matsuda), a college student, is hired to tutor Shigeyuki. He literally slaps him into shape and demands that he spend long hours at this desk. In addition, the tutor teaches him self-defense. Suddenly, Shigeyuki's grades improve, and he is no longer beaten up by stronger kids.
This black comedy sheds light on recent developments in the dynamics of Japanese home life. The eating rituals, accompanied by much slurping and burping, are portrayed in slapstick fashion. Instead of being a strong patriarch, the father is a weakling and a boozer who can't communicate with his wife or sons. He barks but lacks the bite associated with masculine privilege in Japanese society. Mother is the malleable mediator, always at the beck and call of the three males.
With the entry of Yoshimoto into their lives, the family's equilibrium is thrown off balance. When Shigeyuki gains admission to a highly rated school, the family throws a party to celebrate. The outsider turns the meal into a riot of food-throwing and physical violence. What is the meaning of this? It could be a prophetic comment on the misplaced, bourgeoisie values that make getting ahead more important than other traditional Japanese ideals. However one interprets the ending, The Family Game is worth viewing for it revelations about modern Japanese culture.
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by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
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