by Paul Attard Film

Dear Etranger | Yukiko Mishima

August 2, 2018

In attempting to navigate some difficult familial terrain in a similar vein as her contemporary, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Yukiko Mishima ultimately fails to escape rote contrivance with her latest film, Dear Etranger. Tadanobu Asano plays salaryman Makoto Tanaka, who’s living with his second wife Nanae (Rena Tanaka) and her two children from her last marriage. Both adults are batsu-ichi (once divorced) and are trying to make their new family function peacefully, but an already delicate situation is complicated when Nanae gets pregnant, and around the same time as Makoto is handed a substantial demotion at his once-high paying job, which forces him to work longer hours and be away from his family.

As if this isn’t enough tedious melodrama for Mishima’s film to encompass, one of Tanaka’s step-daughters also hates him — and the whole idea of having a new father — and goes to extreme lengths to undermine her new dad’s attempts to bring the household together. Add to all that some subplots about dying family members and abusive ex-spouses, and you get a narrative that relies more on external forces exerted against a family than an exploration of psychological issues within it — essentially giving these characters no interiority, even as they’re saddled with ever growing dilemmas. Most of these story elements are hurriedly addressed, and there’s actually little sense that the Makoto clan will ever buckle under the weight of them; each ends up generically resolved (learning to live with much less, coming to realize the importance of our loved ones, etc. etc.) and a more serious interrogation of the family’s complications never comes.

Published as part of Japan Cuts 2018.