Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 10/15/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Three years ago I took a class called Images in Japanese Popular Culture and within the class we watched several wonderful films, including of each from the multitude of Zatoichi and Tora-san films, a beautiful film titled Furusato by Koyama Seijiro, a real tearjerker titled Okaasan, and Ichikawa Kon's beautiful rendition of Tanizaki Junichiro's The Makioka Sisters. However, I believe the film that truly stuck in my memory was Morita's Family game starring Matsuda Yusaku, father of Matsuda Ryuhei, and Itami Juzo, the brilliant actor and director who would later create such masterpieces as Tampopo and A Quiet Life.
Family Game opens by introducing the viewer to the Numata family, dad, mom, older brother Shinichi, and younger brother Shigeyuki. While Shinichi is a wonderful student having been accepted to a top high school which has a strong record getting its students into the top universities, younger brother Shigeyuki is much closer to the bottom, around 8th or 9th. While basically absent from the household, except when he comes home after work drunk, dad is concerned that his younger son won't get accepted into a top high school. Therefore he hires Yoshimoto, a tall, clean cut young man who attends a third-rate university. Many tutors have failed before the arrival of Yoshimoto, so dad offers him 10,000 yen per class rank Shigeyuki ascends. Therefore if Shigeyuki rises thirty ranks Yoshimoto will receive 300, 000 yen. Seems like a good deal, yes? Well, Shigeyuki is not quite willing to cooperate. With his non-confrontational mother who prefers leaving bigger decisions to her husband or others, Shigeyuki is used to getting his way, so when he is told to write the words he does know in Basho's Narrow Road to the North, he pulls a stunt in which he writes "twilight" over and over again. When Yoshimoto sees page after page of "twilight" he then proceeds to slap Shigeyuki hard enough to bloody the boy's nose, and warns him that if he tries to pull anymore stunts like that again he will be hit, and Yoshimoto is not one to pull his punches. Yoshimoto informs Shigeyuki's mother that the reason the boy's nose bled was that he got a bit over-excited, but although it is never directly stated she is of course worried, but dad thinks the end justifies the means, so the tutoring continues. With an absent father and a gentle milksop for a mother, Shigeyuki actually does become closer to his tutor and his grades do actually rise, but it is not through actual academic assistance, Yoshimoto normally looks at books about plants during their tutoring sessions, but the closeness and discipline Yoshimoto offers helps the boy. However, should Yoshimoto really be the one providing such a foundation?
Family Game is completely dominated by the presence of Matsuda Yusaku. With his large size he almost fills the apartment of the Numatas' which is almost at bursting point with its four family members. However, it is his aggressiveness that really takes the stage. With no sense of personal space, Yoshimoto gets as close as he possibly can to Shigeyuki and often touches him as well, including one part of the film in which Shigeyuki is dressed only in his briefs. This scene doesn't have any sexual undertones in my opinion, but it is again another example of the magnitude of Yoshimoto's presence. Yoshimoto does other things to excess also, including drinking all of his beverages, often noisily, in on breath. While it is not too popular in the Western world, although it pops up quite often in film classes, Family Game is a pretty amazing film that should be seen just for the film's last ten minutes, but should be seen by those who not only enjoy Japanese films, but films in general.
An Excellent Dark Comedy From Japan!
Ernest Jagger | Culver City, California | 04/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I really enjoyed the film "The Family Game" when I first viewed it many years ago, and time has not lessened this films appeal to me. The films release date was in 1984. The reviewer below, [Michael W.] has written an excellent review of the film, and I would recommend that other reviewers read it. The film stars the late actor Yusaku Matsuda, as the tutor Yoshimoto. [Yusaku Matsuda died of cancer in 1989]. In this film his portrayal of the tutor is a very unorthodox one I might add. However, with the price that the father is paying him if he succeeds, only adds to his incentive to motivate his young pupil. And succeed he does. On a side note, Yusaku Matsuda was also the father of actor Ryuhei Matsuda ["9 Souls" and "Love Ghost"]. The film centers on the entire family, but more importantly the youngest son Shigeyuki (Ichirota Miyagawa).
Shigeyuki is a disappointment to the family, due to the fact that he does not get good grades in school; whereas the elder brother Shinichi (Junichi Tsujita) is an excellent student who has been accepted into a top high school. This concerns the family, who believe that the younger son will not be accepted into a top-notch high school. Their solution? Get the younger son a tutor. The tutor, Yoshimoto (Yusaku Matsuda) not only turns around Shigeyuki, by demanding he spend more hours in his studies [even if this means slapping him around] but Yoshimoto also teaches Shigeyuki self-defense, when the latter informs him of bullies. And with Yoshimoto as his tutor, not only does Shigeyuki's grades improve, but so does his self esteem when he is no longer picked on by the other students.
The father is portrayed by the late, great director/actor Juzo Itami. [He is sorely missed]. This is a great dark comedy that gives the viewer a look at Japanese home life. Many of my friends who have viewed this film say that this film shows a dysfunctional Japanese family, and I would have to disagree. I think it is a funny look into a family's life where the father tends to be away too much, while the mother (Saori Yuki) pampers the younger son too much. Also, I believe director Yoshimitsu Morita did an excellent job with this film with many of the slapstick humor the film delivers. There are many memorable scenes in the film, [espcially the eating rituals of the family] and I recommend the film highly. And as the reviewer below has written, the ending of the film is quite unique. Highly recommended!"
I loved it, and still do
teva_man | United States | 05/26/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I first saw this film almost ten years ago in a Japanese culture class I had to take in college to fulfill my Nonwestern Culture requirement for graduation. It really stuck with me for the past 10 years and I kept scouring the net trying to find a copy of it. Thankfully, it is now out on DVD. The film gives a seemingly accurate insight into Japanese family life. The characters are all very, very real, as are the situations - having to do well in school, coming of age, and the relationships between the characters are fascinating. If you're looking for a soap opera-type movie about family life in the Far East, this one definitely isn't the one for you. It is not a comedy, although there is enough of a comedic element that what little levity it does have is sufficient. The role of the tutor guy is pretty interesting....yeah, he succeeded in helping Numata get his grades up, but did he bring the family closer together? That is conjectural; it could go one way or another depending on the viewer's perception. I will admit, I have not seen any other films about Japanese family life, but this one is definitely one I'd recommend to anyone."