EIFF 2012: ‘Hospitalité’ is a Buñuel-like pleasure

Hospitalité (Kantai)
Directed by Koji Fukada
Japan, 2010

Hospitalité opens with the slow introduction of the family of Mikio Kobayashi, a man running a print business through his home. He lives with his young second wife Natsuki, his daughter Eriko, and sister Seiko, who has returned following a recent divorce. Bar the disappearance of a pet bird, there seems little dramatic about their sleepy suburb existence, though local community watch members endlessly fret about homeless people or foreigners seeping into the neighbourhood. Things change relatively quickly and drastically with the arrival of the mysterious Kagawa. An initially helpful seeming presence, Kagawa arrives at the household having seemingly found their lost bird, but through circumstance and smooth talking ends up becoming a live-in employee. He promptly brings an aloof blonde woman to stay with him without permission, explaining that she is his wife; the white Annabelle, who is barely able to speak Japanese, claims to be from both Brazil and Bosnia on two separate occasions. Step by step, the enigmatic couple subvert the relationships between the host and his family members, and introduce increasingly bothersome attributes and additional guests to the household.

With its languid opening and suburb setting with the seemingly standard soundtrack of singing cicadas, Hospitalité may have an aura of familiarity for connoisseurs of a certain brand of Japanese cinema, but it evolves into a witty satirical farce with hints of Luis Buñuel in its invasion and deconstruction of home and etiquette. With a superficially unpolished visual aesthetic, the film, supposedly shot in eight days without rehearsal, actually benefits from its appearance, its various theatrical qualities and visual humour increasing their potency through their depiction in a casual, “more real” looking setting: a Marx brothers-like cramming of tens of unannounced house guests in one bedroom is especially funny thanks to this.

In addition to testing and reshaping the limits of private space, Kagawa’s behaviour also attracts the attention of the neighbourhood watch, since he brings an assortment of seemingly illegal immigrants into the Kobayashi home. The film has a subtle exploration of xenophobia that also provides amusement, avoiding a lecturing quality. Kagawa, in a way, is like a more effective version of the community watch, albeit with more open aggression. Constantly meeting and organising, the watch accomplishes nothing but sustained disapproval, while Kagawa actually assists in local crime prevention despite his own smuggling ways. Even in regards to the outsiders he brings in, he actually works to integrate them and make them useful by arranging employment. Biting stances on topical points are just complimentary elements to Koji Fukada’s film, a very entertaining and especially funny slice of etiquette absurdity.

Josh Slater-Williams

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