My Dad and Mr. Ito
Release Date: October 08th, 2016
Duration: 119 mins
Director: Yuki Tanada
Writer: Hinako Nakazawa (Screenplay/Original Novel),
Starring: Juri Ueno, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Sei Ando, Lily Franky, Tomoharu Hasegawa, Eri Watanabe,
Nothing binds people together as tightly as family ties and those ties can hurt when they really bite into you, something which the characters in this drama experience when an old man moves in with his daughter and her boyfriend in their small apartment. It may be a cramped space but a wide range of issues are raised as these three try to learn to live together.
In a perfect example of the saying, “two’s company, three’s a crowd,” this sometimes sweetly comic but mostly wry relationship drama centres on Aya (Juri Ueno), a 34-year-old woman who has a pretty simple life. She works part-time at a book store and lives with her 54-year-old boyfriend Mr. Ito (Lily Franky). He also has a part-time job, working at a school cafeteria. The two have something of a carefree existence with few responsibilities other than making each other happy and watering the plants outside their apartment somewhere in Tokyo. Their chilled-out existence is disrupted when her cranky 74-year-old father (Tatsuya Fuji) moves in without warning after driving Aya’s older-brother Kiyoshi (Tomoharu Hasegawa) and sister-in-law Ririko (Sei Ando) up the wall with his domineering ways. He’s not that impressed with Aya’s laid-back lifestyle or his daughter having a boyfriend who is about to hit 60 and he lets them know it in every conversation and through his passive-aggressive attitude.
At first glance, he is a typical grumpy old man moaning about how youngsters don’t live in a traditional way and it gives the film its dramatic and comedic contours as Aya and her father clash.
The film looks at differences between the baby-boomer generation who benefited from the financial good times experienced by Aya’s parents, and those who grew up in the lost-decade when the economy tanked. Aya’s responses and lifestyle say a lot about the breakdown of traditional employment and family structures in Japan as people reaching middle-age or already there, like Aya and Mr Ito, scramble into part-time work due to the lack of full-time employment available. With finances able to accommodate the two comfortably, it is easy to imagine Aya and Mr. Ito choosing to be happy over being parents or struggling to compete with new generations of university grads for better-paying work.
Perhaps the reason we are never given Aya’s father’s name and he is only referred to as “father” is to make him symbolic of the older generation.
Aya finds herself bombarded with questions about her life with Mr Ito, revealing ingrained gender roles and some legitimate worries about Ito’s family background and the social risk of Ito grooming Aya to be his carer which will leave her alone when she is elderly.
Whatever the case, Aya’s responses are carefree, a shrug of the shoulders or a casual, “I don’t know”. She is taking it too lightly and has no problem which obviously drives her uptight father into irritation so he blusters all the more.
“I’m aware of how I’m living my life.”
While Aya’s father is really unbearable in some of his behaviour, the film doesn’t shy away from criticising his children who are seen plotting with how to deal with their father as if he is an inconvenience. For Kiyoshi, palming him off to others is to give his family, who are working hard to compete in society, a break. The toll the father having wrought on others being humorously shown through Ririko’s horrified reactions to the sight of him. Aya just wants to live carefree. Filial piety is that small tug that keeps the kids connected to the old man.
What makes the film funny and even a little daring is how Aya reveals a surprising selfishness and ruthlessness to her character in her dealings with her father. She wants to retain her comfortable life and her father is an oppressive presence. Yuki Tanada’s low-key direction focuses mostly on Aya’s point-of-view and picks out Juri Ueno’s face as she runs through a gamut of emotions from frustration to sadness and regret. The most interesting looks are the devious ones that accompany the acerbic comments Aya has about the old man, the glimpses of callousness and disrespect. The film offers criticism of people who show such selfishness to others but it is refreshing to see such glimpses of meanness from her in an age where baby boomers refuse to accept the problems their actions have wrought and it is a little satisfying to see how she rejects gender and societal roles. Ueno also has a beautiful childishness to her which reveals she hasn’t quite grown up yet.
Likewise Tatsuya Fuji does a great job being a grump through his casual cruelty and inability to soften his own behaviour to others. He does get moments to show his humanity when he talks about his days as a teacher and shows kindness but his childish stubbornness leads to many an impasse which is only broken when he tries to recapture his youth by retreating back into his own past. The film is equally as critical of him as it is of Aya by showing his intransigence and the story lets the audience know that the elderly have to allow for change and respect others as well.
To make sure it all works, Lily Franky’s character, Mr Ito, acts as a pivot for the children and their father. Less in thrall to the family unit, his distance from their history allows a frankness and clear-eyed decisions that act as a compromise between two opposite parties. Franky imbues his character with his trademark laid-back energy and experience that convinces audiences he’s happy bobbing along the surface of society as a part-time worker and it also serves to help him act as a negotiator for the other characters who he connects with in surprising ways.
Although the film flirts with sentimentality, it never goes there because nobody is particularly loveable. That written, they are sometimes easy to relate to and sympathise with, making this an excellent character-driven story with a lot of interesting social commentary on the interaction between generations and changes in how people live. As these things shift about in conversations, the film zeroes in on the most important thing in life: family and how it is important for everyone, young and old, to understand and empathise with each other.