Masahide Ichii, the director of the prize-winning Dog Days Dream (2005) and Naked of Defenses (2007), is back to deliver one of his more personal projects. This time, Ichii explores the problematic dynamics of a stormy family.
One day, the Suzuki family is put in disarray, when father Ittetsu Suzuki (Tatsuya Fuji) decides to rob a bank and drive of with his wife, Mitsuko (Rumi Sakakibara) in a hearse. Ten years later, after the statute of limitations has expired, Suzuki and his wife are legally declared death. After the funeral service, the family gathers – the unemployed but money-hungry eldest brother Kotetsu (Tsuyoshi Kusanagi), his daughter Yuzuki (Mahiru Coda) and wife Miyoko (Machiko Ono), his successful younger brother Kyosuke (Hirofumi Arai), his ‘boyfriend-shopping’ divorcee sister Rena (Megumi) – to pay their respects. Yet, part-timer Chihiro (Tomoya Nakamura) is absent.
As a typhoon is slowly approaching, it does not take long for the question of what to do with the ‘inheritance’ comes up. After a heated discussion, Kotetsu powerfully states to the others that he is going to take all the inheritance. Then, accidently, they discover that none of them organized the funeral.
Stormy Family is a comical drama narrative about interpersonal familial conflict driven by the thirst for a decent piece or all pieces of the parental inheritance. The need of solving the inheritance puzzle, as many know, often causes unspoken familial conflicts to resurface and the birth of a desire to settle, once and for all by ‘rightfully’ dividing the parental money, the subjective suffering one has endured due to certain familial dynamics. It is not any different in Stormy Family.
Via the lens of the inheritance problem, Ichii explores how long-standing conflicts, imaginary injuries, and resentments hollow out the familial system and destroys the sense of being a family. He furthermore reveals how a subjective preoccupation with one’s imagined ‘entitlements’, i.e. what one has supposedly earned due to being subjected to certain ‘unfair’ familial dynamics, turns each family member into a rival. This rivalry forces each member of the family either into the position of a (deceiving) Other solely focused on securing one’s own financial pleasure, into an Other set out to ensure that the other cannot gain the pleasure he is trying to ‘legally’ secure, or an Other that becomes victim of the clashing of the two aforementioned Others.
Yet, the holding of the funeral, causing the ‘inheritance’ conflicts, is driven by a ‘hidden’ inner injury, Chihiro’s injury of not receiving the same moment of fame as his siblings after the parental crime. This imaginary injury is the sole reason why he decides to organize and stream the funeral. This funeral is, in other words, his attempt to right his imaginary wrong and to gain his moment of fame and monetize the stormy dynamics of his family. Of course, hearing that money can be earned, Kotetsu urges the family to embrace their conflicts and reveal their stormy dynamics to the world.
Because all family members are fixated on their imaginary injuries and driven by their egoistic resentments, they are unable to approach the ‘familiar’ other as subject and undertake an attempt to understand the ‘subjective pain’ of this ‘familial’ Other. The same passion of ignorance is in play concerning the parental crime – a case of neglecting parents. Did anyone of the children ever ask why the parental crime happened, why robbing a bank was a solution to the problem the parental pair was struggling with? Maybe the house, which has been abandoned ever since the crime happened, will give the bitter children some unexcepted answers and give them the opportunity to heal and find closure as a family. Maybe stuck together in the house due to a typhoon will allow them, beyond any form of imaginary resentment, to explore the familial and parental past, assume some guilt over what happened, and touch upon the logic that animates the familial other’s current or past comportment.
The composition of Stormy Family stands out due to its use of dynamism and its shot compositions (Narra-note 1). While many dynamic moments are fluid and subtle, some sequences are marked by a noticeable shakiness. Shakiness is, in Stormy Family, generally used to emphasize and strengthen the emotional impact of certain events and speech-interactions or the emotional weight of certain acts. Shakiness, in other words, signals to the spectator that emotions are in play, that certain signifiers induce a ‘storm’ of emotions or that an act carries an emotional weight.
Even though the visual beauty of some shot-compositions is function of a careful attention to and exploitation of the geometrical dimensions of interiors, this is not the main source of visual pleasure in Stormy Family. Instead, the beauty of the shots resides in the thoughtful way that Ichii places his characters within the narrative space and the way he orchestrates their movements so that it feels natural. One could, in this sense, even contend that Ichii succeeds in geometrically composing his shots with his characters.
Stormy Family is a great narrative that succeeds in exploring the very way that imaginary injuries and resentments erode family bonds, by causing a subjective blindness for the suffering of the other. Yet, it is not only the thematical exploration that drives Stormy Family that makes Ichii’s film enjoyable, but also the compositional frame by which he delivers his narrative.
Narra-note 1: This reliance on dynamism – spatial and tracking movement – does not mean that the composition is devoid of static shots or static sequences. Static moments are often used to highlight certain objects/interiors or to frame certain acts or interactions that are, often due to their formal nature, not driven by emotions.