Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hot Docs 2013 Film Review - Rent A Family Inc.

Director Kaspar Astrup Schroder came up with the idea for Rent a Family Inc. on one of his many trips to Japan. He was looking through the classifieds and noticed the unusual items that were available for rent. The papers had dogs that could be rented for an hour to take them for a walk in the park. The paper also had a section for renting people.  Intrigued Schroder contacted Ryuichi who owned a business I Want To Cheer You Up Ltd. The business is run though a web site and a cell phone. Ryuichi will rent himself out as a father, husband, boss, colleague or even get together a group to serve as one side of the family for a wedding.

Ryuichi is the father of two boys who does not have a great relationship with his family. He hardly speaks to his wife. They live in small cramped quarters outside of Toyko. His oldest son now sleeps with his mother in the bed that Ryuichi bought for himself so he could get a good nights sleep. Father's day goes by each year unnoticed while mother's day is a big deal in the household. His family had no idea about his business.  His wife does not care what he does as long as he brings home money to support the family. The only affection that Ryuichi gets at home is from the small family dog Chappi.

Schroder interviews Ryuichi using a one camera shot with the questions coming from out of the frame. Ryuichi admits that he is lonely and has thoughts of suicide. Money is always an issue and if he dies his family would get to keep the home. His wife is interviewed in the same fashion using a Japanese translator. She recounts that the only way she knows that he has changed jobs is based on the new delivery company uniform that she finds in the wash. Schroder also injects Japanese shows into the film one of which has Ryuichi on as a guest, identity hidden to give details of his business. The shows are loud, extremely busy, visually stimulating and speak to the main social and cultural issues of the day.

The film recounts four I Want to Cheer You Up assignments. In the first Ryuichi plays the new husband of a woman that wants her ex to pay child support and give her control of the funds. Her ex had always refused to do so in the past but with Ryuichi playing the role of the new husband and pointing out that he has to take on responsibility for the children the ex agrees to let the client control the funds for the kids.

The most elaborate job is the assignment to provide the entire brides side of a wedding. Ryuichi plays an Uncle of the bride and a highlight of the film is the group going over their roles on the train ride to the wedding getting their names and back stories straight. The wedding goes off with a few hitches and mistakes but the troop are generally moved by the ceremony many crying at the event.

Rent a family Inc is a unique look into Japanese culture. The need for individuals to seek approval from others and an underlying tone that people are aware that something is not right with the situation but go along to get along. It's a film that I can recommend.

*** out of 4

Rent a Family Inc. | Kaspar Astrup Schroder | Denmark | 2013 | 77 Minutes.

2013 Hot Docs Film Festival.

Tags: Classifieds, Renting people, Stand Ins, Secret Job, Dysfunctional Family, suicide, Japanese culture, Japanese Television.

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