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WHAT A WONDERFUL FAMILY! – A Hilarious Take on Divorce, Values, and Relationships


By Ariel Ushijima (Ebert Young Writers Participant)

In the new feature film What a Wonderful Family!, the first scene begins with a simple phone call at home.  A woman picks up the phone to answer and the caller is blunt with the man on the other line saying, “It’s me! It’s me. Don’t you know?” The woman is confused and accuses the man of being a phone scammer. After our caller does not introduce himself, we find out that it was the father figure of the house, Shuzo Hirata (Isao Hashizume) calling his daughter-in-law, Fumie Hirata (Yui Natsukawa). From the start of the film, it is clear that Shuzo has an attitude and a sharp tongue.

After coming home from a night out drinking at his local bar, he sees that his wife, Tomiko Hirata (Kazuko Yoshiyuki) received flowers. He questions the flowers and she states to him, with a gentle smile while picking up his clothes, that today was her birthday. He shows no emotion in response to this, but he says he will buy her something as long as it’s not too expensive. Tomiko says that what she wants is only 450 yen (about $4.50 US dollars). She hands him a paper and it turns out to be a divorce form. From here, the situation of an unexpected divorce affects a huge household of three generations, with every member trying to stop the impending disaster while struggling with their own individual lives.

Renowned director Yoji Yamada is no stranger to family movies. His famed long running series Tora-san (Otoko wa Tsurai Yo) centers on a lonely man looking for love that also involves his family. His previous work, Nagasaki: Memories of My Son (Haha to Kuraseba) features a mother who lost her son and miraculously he appears to meet her again. What is truly great about What a Wonderful Family! is Yamada’s seamless ability to blend comedy and family aspects into a heart-warming film. Not only are his portrayals of family realistic, the whole plot of the movie is about an elderly couple in their 70’s getting a divorce. Divorce has been a taboo topic in Japan, only recently surfacing to conversations. The amount of divorces are small. There are about 800,000 divorces in America annually while Japan is at a quarter of that. It is such a unique concept that is almost unheard of.  Yamada does a fine job of telling this story as though it’s been told thousands of times.

With thoroughly winning performances by all cast members, Yoji Yamada truly captures the essence that no family is the same. The chemistry among all the family members is quite magical and with a cast so big, it could be difficult but each character had magnificently found their right place in the movie. They keep you entertained throughout the entire film while also touching your hearts. The Japanese title of this film is called Kazoku wa Tsurai Yo which translated into English means “Being a Family is Tough!” The film proves true to the title and captures the serious topics of divorce, values, and relationships in a light-hearted way that will leave you with a smile on your face.

As a part of our Ebert Young Writers Program for the Arts, we will be publishing the participants reviews and interviews they produce for the workshop on the official HIFF blog.

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