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THE YEN FAMILY

Japan, 1988 (MIFF 1989)

Director: Yojiro Takita

The Yen Family reinforces and extends a trend in contemporary Japanese cinema whereby wealth and its effect upon traditional and human values, especially as exemplified by the family, have come under crirical examination. In this significant sense, Yojiro Takita's new film matches the achievements established by a mid-1980's pantheon of cultural hara-kiri, represented by such works as The Family Game, The Funeral, Tampopo and The Crazy Family.

The Kimura family's devotion to making money knows no bounds. Noriko (Kaori Momoi), the mother, starts her day with a series of passionate pantings that form the basis of her erotic wake-up telephone service. The vehicle which the father Hajime (Takeshi Kaga) drives to work also doubles as a taxicab which, in turn, converts into a kind of travelling dispensary or smallgoods supermarket on wheels. Other enterprises spilling out from the Kimura's home base are a catering business and courier outfit, both cheaply employing the resources of local senior citizens.

Small wonder that some visiting relatives, the Amamiyas, are dubious about the mercenary zeal of this conduct and aren't at all sure whether the ageing, fragile Mitsu (Akiko Kazami) ought to be entrusted to such 'care'. Matters are ethically (and farcically) complicated even further when the Kimuras' young boy Taro (Mitsunori Isaki) contacts the Amamiyas, complaining of his family's excessive, immoral ways.

While steering us through the Kimuras' cheerfully relentless pursuit of paying customers, Takita ( who directed the highly acclaimed Comic Magazine, keeps his crazy satire hovering on a double edge. Just as we may be amused and appalled at the monstrous Kimuras playing out a cartoon parody of corporate capitalism, why do their opposites, the right-minded Amamiyas appear so dull and repressive? Are the Kimuras genuinely avaricious and greedy or could they be driven by other more basic, potentially 'communal' instincts?

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