Often when a film explores the underlying rage of an middle-class, middle-aged, middle-management type, it will explode in a terrible act from which there is no turning back. Yukiko Mishima's "Dear Etranger", however, chooses not to go for the sensational, and is an exploration in how it's easier to simply lose it rather than stick to the straight and narrow.
Makoto (Tadanobu Asano) is a man struggling between two families. Divorced and re-married, he struggles to balance keeping contact with his daughter from his first marriage, Saori (Raiju Kamata), and treating his two stepdaughters, Kaoru (Sara Minami) and Eriko (Miu Arai) as if they're his own.
Playing the good husband and father, he doesn't stay after work to drink with colleagues, takes all of his annual leave and tries as much as possible to include his two new daughters in his life. However, his good intentions at home see him first for the chop when his company restructures, leaving him relegated to working in a warehouse.
At home, while Eriko plays along with the scenario, the elder Kaoru is less happy to play along at happy families, wanting to see her real father, the way he meets with Saori. Adding a further difficulty to his situation, his new wife, Nanae (Rena Tanaka) announces she is pregnant, leaving Makoto wanting to cut his losses and move on.
However, when looking at two other fathers: Kaoru and Eriko's real father, Sawada (Kankuro Kudo); and Saori's stepfather see him stick to being a father to all four of his children, the tension released and returning to normal.
Throughout the first half, Mishima keeps a kick drum soundtrack playing, signifying the tension building under the surface for Makoto. Despite all the negative points coming to his life, he keeps going with a stoic attitude. But the repetition and constant grief he receives from Kaoru, along with the news of the pregnancy, cause this tension to rise to the surface. Kaoru's words both push him over the edge and bring him back from the brink when she compares him to her real father.
Makoto's anger comes out in realistic and unspectacular bursts. Rather than simply lashing out, his nature is more passive aggressive, carrying out Kaoru's request in anger. Asano's performance and Mishima's direction create a believable response to the situation and feels a truthful reflection of family tensions. Though the spiteful nature of Kaoru might seem a little strong for some, but she is a girl struggling to accept the situation.
No one character is portrayed as a hero, however, or indeed a monster. Sawada may be shown to have been a terrible father in flashbacks, but on meeting him today, he is very aware of how he is when it comes to children and his thoughts on parenthood; a life he simply doesn't wish to have. Makoto also is guilty of unconscious bad habits, pointed out to him ex-wife Yuka (Shinobu Terajima). Her words clearly sit with him in his better understanding of Kaoru, becoming a guiding father to her, rather than simply forcing her to call him "Dad." All can learn something from one another.
Mishima paces the film well, switching between the present day and flashbacks of key moments in the previous marriages. In a career that hadn't quite hit the heights until now, "Dear Etranger" is a mature film, and shows that there is potential for Mishima to develop into a consistently strong director. Asano's performance also shows his versatility; an older man now, giving an equally mature performance as a man trying to keep his tensions under control, and not always succeeding. Both create a realistic character and show that it's more difficult to keep your cool and keep going than to let it all out in a violent outburst.
A 40-year old man sees his life change when his wife gets pregnant. He already has a daughter from his first marriage whom he rarely sees and two step-daughters, from his wife's first marriage. The youngest of his step-daughters is looking forward to a baby brother or sister, but the oldest doesn't welcome the news and suddenly decides that she wants to live with her father. And as if that were not enough trouble, he is forced out of his good office job into an inferior position.
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March 25, 2018 at 06:55 PM