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Film Review: Disease of Family (2023) by Chikako Okayama
Film Review: Disease of Family (2023) by Chikako Okayama

Film Review: Disease of Family (2023) by Chikako Okayama

“There are no happy families anywhere.”

The family drama is something of a stable within the Japanese film industry, with a long tradition and many big names as well as legitimate masterpieces attached to it. Similar to other cultures, the family drama is far more than a culmination of conflicts within a community of people, but rather a reflection of the political, economic and cultural challenges within a country. Directors such as Hirokazu Koreeda, whose career is basically founded on the perfection of the genre, have created works dealing with traditional family values being questioned because of various trends and developments. Based on an original work by author Akiko Shimoju, director Okayama Chikako wants to aim for similar acclaim with her adaptation of “Disease of Family”, telling the story of three families and their way of facing a particularly taxing obstacle.

“Disease of Family” starts with the story of Fujita, a successful author whose novels surrounding the female body and nudity have gained him quite the reputation. In order to further his research he contacts Reiko, a hostess, whose daughter Maria struggles with the job of her mother, which she finds out about online. Disgusted by her discovery, she frequently escapes to nature where she comes across Yukio.

The young man also goes through a phase of estrangement from his family, especially his father, a successful businessman. As he began questioning the purpose of his job, he became something of a slacker, leading to arguments with his father. He also takes care of his grandmother who suffers from dementia and writes haiku. On the day he meets Reiko, the two of them not only realize their struggles, but also decide to face them together.

According to its Wikipedia-page, Okayama’s second feature can be compared to such esteemed works like Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” and Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story”. While the ambition is certainly there, both narratively and technically, the overall execution lacks in many ways, making some of the scenes weird and awkward, and not for the right reasons. However, the foundation is there, for example, when you consider the conflicts within each family, especially among the younger and the older generation. Okayama stays true to the material, focusing on the dissolution of traditional structures and the idea to find something to cling on to. Similar to other indie movies, the intention is apparent, but the execution is lacking.

Two of the major issues are the depiction of each family and the pacing. The introduction of each conflict is very laborious as well as awkward, with strange timing and comments by the characters that are on the same level. If “Disease of Family” was meant as a comedy or bizarre satire, this might work, but as the action continues you start to notice this was clearly not the intention. The same goes for the almost obligatory meandering and often pointless scenes. Additionally, the philosophical undertones miss not only their mark, but highlight the overall awkwardness of the whole feature, making its running time a true test of the viewer’s patience.

“Disease of Family” has high ambitions and is inspired by the greats of the genre. However, its execution, pacing and also the performances fail to deliver and often come across as a weird blend of various tones and moods which do not fit well together.