Family Romance, LLC

 

starstar

 


An unfortunate misstep by Werner Herzog as he gives us his strangest film yet.

 

Family Romance, LLC

Ishii Yuichi

 

The familiar saying that fact is stranger than fiction comes to mind when viewing this latest work from that prolific veteran Werner Herzog. The title of his new offering is the name of Ishii Yuichi's company that has been thriving in Tokyo for the last eleven years. The service provided by that company is a bizarre one in that it is the place where you can hire a substitute person to take on the role of a family member or friend. Herzog chooses to focus most of all on the situation that arises when the mother of 12-year-old Mahiro Tanimoto asks Ishii to meet her daughter and to claim that he is the child's father of whom the little girl has no recollection. When he does this he explains that, following a divorce just after her birth, he had remarried and for that reason had never made contact before.

 

We find another client asking Ishii to attend her daughter's wedding pretending to be her father because the real father is epileptic. Even odder is the case of a railway employee due to be criticised by his bosses for letting a train depart early since in this case the client has approached the company to provide a stand-in to take the rebuke on his behalf. But taking over somebody else’s identity is not always involved: thus we have a woman who has had the only exciting experience of her life when winning big in a lottery and she therefore asks the company to set up a re-enactment so that she can experience it again. Had Family Romance, LLC been made as a straightforward documentary it would not have felt out of place in Herzog's oeuvre, but for no clear reason he has opted to blend reality with what is essentially a scripted dramatisation.

 

Herzog himself is the main photographer here catching some atmospheric shots of Tokyo in the process and using an apt music score by Ernst Reijseger that adds to the flavour. But his shooting style is such that, with its close-ups and varied angles, what we are seeing plays like a work of fiction in keeping with the credits which describe Ishii Yuichi and Mahiro Tanimoto as starring in the film. If Ishii is clearly playing a version of himself, we never know if young Mahiro truly represents herself or is instead a semi-fictional figure with a storyline invented by Herzog. So too in episodes featuring other characters we are left uncertain regarding the borderline between fact and fiction.

 

For much of its length, the film deals in situations suited to documentary filming because our interest in them depends on everything we see being true. Ironically, given the nature of Ishii's company, Herzog's approach results in a fake film about fakes and one that not until very late on and then only superficially touches on whether or not such services as Ishii provides are beneficial. These final scenes come about when the screenplay incorporates a climax that seems to desert reality altogether: far more than anything that precedes it, it plays like a fictional contrivance and it is a switch in tone that only undermines the film further.

 

For once we have a Herzog movie from his later phase that has no commentary but, if the absence of that idiosyncratic voice is something of a surprise, the real shock is that Herzog should have failed to realise that this material would have been far more effective if presented in full documentary mode. Acting things out for the camera to this extent prevents the film from finding a meaningful form, one that would have allowed Herzog to go deeper into the moral issues involved. It's not by chance that an odd scene about a hotel which features a robot receptionist alongside an aquarium with a robot fish is the most telling because its quirky oddity is perfect for Herzog and the human figures are hardly relevant here.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Ishii Yuichi, Mahiro Tanimoto, Miki Fujimaki, Ryoko Sugimachi, Airi Coats, Take Nakamura, Jin Kuroino, Sumire Nagai, Umetani Hideyasu, Kumi Manda, Yuka Watanabe, Shun Ishigaki, Airi Asoh.

 

Dir Werner Herzog, Pro Roc Morin, Screenplay Werner Herzog, Ph Werner Herzog and Roc Morin, Ed Sean Scannell, Music Ernst Reijseger.

 

Skellig Rock-Modern Films.
89 mins. USA. 2019. Rel: 3 July 2020. Available on VOD. Cert. 12A.