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Family of Strangers

Heisa Byôtô: Sorezore no Asa
2019 / 117m - Japan
Family of Strangers poster

A solid but somewhat innocuous drama. It's not quite sentimental enough to be described as Oscar-bait, but on paper it certainly looks that way. I think it would've been nicer if Hirayama had just picked a side, but there's still enough quality present to give this one a fair shot.

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The film follows a ward in a clinic for the mentally ill. Not the toughest cases, most people there are allowed to venture outside, but all the patients are dealing with deep-rooted traumas. The film zooms in on three patients: an old man who killed his adulterous wife, a young boy who suffers bursts of rage and a young girl who isn't speaking anymore.

Performances are well above average and the drama is fine. Cinematography and score are on point too, it's just that the film lacks anything that sets it apart. The setting, the dramatic events, the struggles of the characters, it feels like so many films have done it before and Family of Strangers isn't really adding anything new to it. Not bad though, just a little on the safe side.


2002 / 119m - Japan
Comedy, Thriller
Out poster

A quirky dark comedy that isn't quite dark and funny enough to really stand out from the crowd. The film has some good ideas, commits to them and executes them adequately, but doesn't take its premise far enough. The result is a bit too muddled and too long for this type of film, but there's still some fun to be had.

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Four women work the night shift, making lunch boxes day in day out. It's mentally tiring, especially when their home situation isn't all that great either. The youngest of the bunch cracks and kills her abusive husband. She calls in the help of the other three to help her with her predicament, but that just gets her further into trouble.

Performances are solid and seeing these rather dull housewives trying to handle an unfortunate murder is amusing. The cinematography is pretty grim and the score just a little too dramatic, the film also tilts a bit too much to the drama side, but Hirayama keeps it interesting throughout and the film never bored me. It just wasn't as edgy as I'd hoped.

The Laughing Frog

Warau Kaeru
2002 / 96m - Japan
Comedy, Thriller
The Laughing Frog poster

Not a bad film, but a little too subdued. A man decides to go back to his wife, after embezzling some money and disappearing from the face of the Earth for a while. She moved on with her life and isn't happy to see him return, but she still feels responsible for her husband and offers him shelter for the time being.

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But things quickly become awkward, especially when her new boyfriend comes over to visit. A nosy detective makes things more tense and a meddling family further complicates matters. It's a solid setup for an entertaining farce, but the presentation is rather stoic and the film never truly comes to life.

Performances are good though and The Laughing Frog is never dull of boring, it just would've been better if Hirayama had opted for a more lively approach. Visually it's a bit grim, the soundtrack is not exactly memorable and the pacing just a tad slow for this type of film. It's decent filler, but nothing too special.

Haunted School

Gakkô no Kaidan
1995 / 101m - Japan
Haunted School poster

Japan loves a good haunted school story. The Haunted School series is quite popular, but similar franchises exist that offer pretty much the exact same thrills. Mind you, this film is mostly aimed at a younger audience. There is no extravagant gore or no real edge-of-your-seat thrills.

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A young student ventures off into a closed-off wing of her school, after which she's never seen again. Another group of kids finds the courage to enter the wing, they too get trapped inside. As the rumors of hauntings turn out to be true, they have to rush to find their way out of the school.

There are some fun creature effects and the boyish, adventurous vibe of the film is fun enough, but the horror is really shallow and limited and there's not quite enough meat to the story to fill the 100-minute runtime. Not bad if you see it with the right expectations, just don't expect a fully fledged J-horror.