Father (1988)

Written and directed by Keisuke Kinoshita

A saccharine bonbon with an acidly sour core, Keisuke Kinoshita’s story of a man’s fleeting presence in his family’s life appears at first a mild-mannered, if slightly sweary, comedy, but reveals itself to be a modern ghost story.  

Eiji Bandô stars as Kikutaro, the father in question, a kite caught in the tornado of his own flighty ambitions. We hear him before we see him, his voice blasting from the speakers on the back of a van as he makes his political pitch to the citizens of his hometown, rolling out the platitudes that we quickly learn nets him a total of 161 votes. 

Political life is not for him, clearly, and so we must bear witness to his many other get-rich-quick schemes, whether it’s blowing the family savings on women’s wrestling, hustling people out of their money, or managing would-be pop stars from Brazil. The ideas are many, payouts non-existent, and watching from the wings is his family, growing exasperated with his ruinous desires as it’s their lives he holds hostage emotionally and financially. 

Central to this agony is Dajiro (Makoto Nonomura), his son, who narrates from a place of late teenagehood as we watch him grow old without his father in his life only to disturbed by his sudden appearances at odd times. Flanking him is Yae (Kiwako Taichi), his mother, who’s often roped in as Kikutaro’s an uneasy accomplice, no matter how much she attempts to distance herself. 

Kinoshita’s treatment of all this is light and comical, and Bandô’s bright, boyish, hot air balloon of a face lifts the entire picture as he rampages through it, relentless in his self-deluded con man routine. It’s enough to fool the viewer too, as Father can’t quite quit on Kikutaro, similarly to how his family can’t. 

As cruel as the underlying dynamic might be, Father is a charming dramedy, full of barbed exchanges, gratuitous cussing and some added spice in the shape of Kin Sugai as Matsu, a potty-mouthed, no-nonsense, and maybe slightly boozy grandmother who wastes no time ragging on her son for his ways and fiercely protecting her grandson. 

The dramatic sleight of hand involved in sugar-coating what is in fact an emotional ghost story actually creates a strange situation where the dramatic punch of Father is a little undersold, as its damning story of a man who torments his family with a happy-go-lucky-go-poof presence gets lost in its mild, cutesy presentation up until a poetic flourish at the very end breaks life open and a cold wind rushes in. 

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