The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
Scholarship & Awards Banquet -
SORDID SECRETS. Hospitalité, a film about the meek owner of a printing business who takes in a stranger claiming to be the son of a family friend, only to have his hospitality backfire, is screening as part of the Northwest Film Center’s Japanese Currents series December 10 and 11 at Portland’s Whitsell Auditorium. (Photo courtesy of the Northwest Film Center)
From The Asian Reporter, V21, #23 (December 5, 2011), page 18.
Questions aplenty in Hospitalité
Directed by Koji Fukada
Screening December 10 and 11
at Portland’s Whitsell Auditorium
By Josephine Bridges
The Asian Reporter
Hospitalité is a film full of questions, and the mystery begins with the title. Is it hospitality that printer Kobayashi offers Kagawa, who claims to be the son of the man who financed Kobayashi’s business, though it is never clear if Kobayashi recognizes him? Is it hospitality that Kobayashi extends to the zombie-like blonde named Annabelle who purports to be first from Brazil and then from Bosnia, and who may or may not be married to Kagawa? And is it still hospitality if coercion and a string of illegal immigrants are involved?
Set primarily in a printing shop and the residence behind and above it, Hospitalité often feels claustrophobic, especially toward the end of the film, when scores of foreigners descend like locusts upon what on the surface appears to be a quiet family business. There is an ominous quality as well, in spite of the hot, sunny weather Tokyo and its surrounds are enjoying, or perhaps suffering, in the course of the film. And it seems as if everyone except Eriko, Kobayashi’s cheerfully obedient daughter, and Yamauchi, the printer’s assistant, who falls ill as soon as Kagawa appears on the scene, harbors a sordid secret.
With his assistant in the hospital, Kobayashi hires Kagawa, who seems to know plenty about printing, with room and board. Kobayashi’s sister Seiko, who has recently returned to the household but yearns to go abroad for reasons she keeps to herself, isn’t happy about this, complaining that Kobayashi’s new wife Natsuki has taken over her room. Tension in the household increases as Kagawa moves Annabelle in and she sets out to seduce Kobayashi while Kagawa accuses Natsuki of embezzling and Natsuki succumbs to the charms of a musician. If only the troubles stopped there.
Perhaps you have always thought that toothbrushing is underrepresented in modern cinema. If so, Hospitalité will give you your fill. Conversations and awkward silences take place in front of the big sink where family members carry out dental hygiene with ferocious precision. When the boarders brush their teeth en masse, the effect is similar to calisthenics. Be sure to note that not everyone holds a toothbrush the same way.
The English language plays a crucial role in Hospitalité. Kagawa, who notices everything and figures out how to use his observations to his advantage, wants to know why Eriko calls her stepmother "teacher." When he learns Natsuki is teaching English to Eriko, he speaks the language to test Natsuki’s knowledge of it. Annabelle, who sounds like a native speaker of the language despite her ostensible origins in South America or Eastern Europe, insinuates herself into Eriko’s lessons and begins to correct Natsuki’s mistakes.
Last but far from least of the questions Hospitalité raises is the moral of its eccentric story. This film could certainly be perceived as a cautionary tale about xenophobia. Although human trafficking takes place, the foreigners, while they are a distinct inconvenience in such large numbers, don’t do anything that would incite fear in a rational person. For the most part they are well-behaved, even helpful and generous. Kagawa, on the other hand, far from foreign, is clearly a man to fear, especially if you have any secrets at all. Which brings me to what may be an alternate moral: The consequences of keeping sordid secrets are not going to be pleasant.
While Hospitalité concludes in much the same circumstances as it began, the mess made by the departed hordes of foreigners at a birthday party for Natsuki, whose birthday it may or may not have been, is only the first of many messes in need of cleaning up.
Hospitalité is screening as part of the Northwest Film Center’s Japanese Currents series December 10 and 11 at 7:00pm. Both screenings take place at Whitsell Auditorium, located at 1219 S.W. Park Avenue in Portland. To learn more, call (503) 221-1156 or visit <www.nwfilm.org>.