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November 12, 2011

Starz Denver Film Festival 2011 - Hospitalite


Koji Fukada - 2010
Film Movement

The opening credits of Hospitalite is made of titles superimposed over white, textured, opaque glass. It made me think of the opening titles of older Japanese films, especially those of Yasujiro Ozu, where the titles are superimposed over burlap or a similar fabric. The first couple of shots of the film also have a way of invoking Ozu, with several exterior shots providing a basic sense of locale. In one of the first scenes, a neighbor comes by to have a printer sign a petition on behalf of a beautification project. The neighbor comments on the presence of the homeless and foreigners. That Fukada's film shares some similarities with Ozu has been commented on by others.

This is very much a contemporary film. The family units, always under some kind of pressure of coming apart in Ozu's films, have a greater tendency to spiral out of control. The printer, Mikio, lives with his elementary school aged daughter, and his much younger second wife, Natsuki. They live upstairs above the small family owned printing press. Mikio's divorced sister also shares what is established as cramped living quarters. A stranger, Kagawa, appears, claiming to know the whereabouts of the daughter's missing parakeet. Kagawa's father had helped finance Mikio's father's press. Not having a job or a place to stay, Mikio invites Kagawa to move in, and to help run the print shop. Shortly thereafter, a blonde woman named Annabelle appears, stepping out of the shower, introduced as Kagawa's wife.

It isn't much of a stretch to see the tiny house as symbolizing Japan, the home as a small island, with it's invasion of foreigners with strange customs and manners, as well as all manner of real and imagined social ills. Even the neighborhood seems enclosed, as when Mikio and Natsuki have an awkward encounter with the ex-wife who walked away from her marriage with Mikio. Over the course of the film, some of the characters are forced to reveal certain truths about each other. Others remain a bit mysterious, such as Annabelle, who is introduced as being from Brazil, but later tells someone else that she is from Bosnia.

The neighborhood, in the outskirts of metro Tokyo, appears untouched by time. Thinking back, Hospitalite could well have been filmed in the same locations as one of Yoji Yamada's "Tora-san" movies from fifty years ago. The closest concession made to the present day is the appearance of a young man who plays with a rock band in a small club. There is a television set in Mikio's house, but otherwise the film seems to take place somewhere remote, disconnected from the visible highway where cars whiz by in the distance.

Fukada makes an interesting visual choice at the end of the film. The focal point is a bird cage, with a newly bought parakeet that resembles the one that flew away. The stationary shot looks down on the cage, while we see primarily the legs of Mikio and Natsuki walking in and out of frame, in the process of cleaning up their house after an impromptu party with far too many guests. That composition of the shot could well be Fukada's way of providing a bit of symbolism, yet at the same time, allowing the viewer to contemplate what has been seen, and to draw their own conclusions.

(Viewed as a DVD screener)

Posted by Peter Nellhaus at November 12, 2011 09:36 AM