An intense, absorbing but sometimes frustrating film from Japan, “Harmonium” has been effectively directed by Koji Fukada. A good cast portrays a collection of characters intertwined with secrets of the past that provide explosive results in the present. Mystery pervades the story, partly with respect to the viewer, but mainly with regard to characters who must learn upsetting things that determine their outlook and their fate.
Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) owns and operates a machine shop. He is married to Akie (Mariko Tsutsui), and they have a daughter, Hotaru (Momone Shinokawa), who is learning to play the harmonium. Into their lives walks handsome Mr. Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), a man from Toshio’s past, and Toshio gives him a job and living quarters. We learn that Yasaka has spent 10 years in prison for killing a man under circumstances not disclosed. There is more to eventually learn about the relationship between Yasaka and Toshio, and for Akie to learn as well.
Of course, we can expect that an attraction will brew between Yasaka and Akie, who doesn’t seem to have much of a romantic or sexual relationship with her husband. Trouble breaks loose when a a shocking event occurs. Yasaka is discovered standing over an unconscious Hotaru. Did he rape her? Attack her out of jealousy imparted by the secret he holds against Toshio? Or did he merely witness a young woman having a stroke? Yasaka promptly disappears.
The result is that Hotaru is inexplicably paralyzed. She is unable to utter more than sounds, and her left hand is frozen in an awkward position. What could have really caused that condition? The years go by and the married couple wants to find Yasaka. Akie has imaginative visions.
The plot thickens when a newcomer given a job in the machine shop turns out to be Yasaka’s estranged son, who subsequently wants to be loyal to his employer and wife. The story and the painful relationships intensify step by step until a tragic ending occurs. The film at that point is moving, but a viewer may also be somewhat frustrated by the Greek tragedy-like conclusion. A Film Movement release. Reviewed June 16, 2017.