By Daniel Barnes
*Opens Friday, June 23 at the 4 Star Theater in San Francisco.
Over one year after winning the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes 2016, this repressed and implosive Japanese tragedy finally receives a limited stateside release. Mariko Tsutsui stars as Akié, unsatisfied small-town wife of a withdrawn machinist named Toshio (Kanji Furutachi) and mother to a harmonium-dabbling young girl. Into their lives glides the ghostly Yasaka (Tadanobu Asano), a white-shirted ex-con with an unspoken connection to Toshio, something significant enough to warrant a steady job and a room under the family’s roof. Still resenting Toshio for leading the life he felt he belonged to him, Yasaka slowly proves himself a better father and a more attentive husband than his old friend and new boss, until a sudden and shocking act of violence turns the narrative on its head. Eight years later, pressed in by an overwhelming wall of guilt and grief, a new machine shop melodrama plays out, one that may finally provide some catharsis for all involved. Harmonium is a borderline unbearable bummer at times, but it’s also quietly captivating, with smart and evocative framing and a trio of excellent performances.