At the Terrace (テラスにて, Kenji Yamauchi, 2016)

At the TerraceEvery keen dramatist knows the most exciting things which happen at a party are always those which occur away from the main action. Lonely cigarette breaks and kitchen conversations give rise to the most unexpected of events as those desperately trying to escape the party atmosphere accidentally let their guard down in their sudden relief. Adapting his own stage play titled Trois Grotesque, Kenji Yamauchi takes this idea to its natural conclusion in At the Terrace (テラスにて, Terrace Nite) setting the entirety of the action on the rear terraced area of an elegant European-style villa shortly after the majority of guests have departed following a business themed dinner party. This farcical comedy of manners neatly sends up the various layers of propriety and the difficulty of maintaining strict social codes amongst a group of intimate strangers, lending a Japanese twist to a well honed European tradition.

Haruko (Kami Hiraiwa), a youngish middle-aged woman has stepped out onto the terrace to check her phone with a degree of privacy but she is shortly joined by a late arrival to the party, Tanoura (Hiroaki Morooka), who lets out a long sad sigh right alongside her. The party’s hostess, Kazumi (Kei Ishibashi), hears his small howl of exasperation and decides to make something of it. Embarking on a strange line of questioning, she gets Tanoura to admit not only to a fondness for the woman who was just on the terrace, but particularly for her shapely white arms. Tanoura fusses and backpedals but is pushed into a corner of defeat with relative ease by his more experienced host. Unfortunately he did not know that Haruko is the wife of a fellow guest – in fact, the guest of honour who has just delivered a speech at the dinner party (which he missed because he was late). Kicking off a late night challenge, Kazumi’s brazen questioning and subsequent decision to announce the results to the group at large proves the catalyst for visible crumbling of the bourgeoisie which is about to take place.

Even though everybody ought to be getting home, the guests linger and the atmosphere becomes increasingly tense and awkward. Insecure hostess Kazumi quickly begins a war with her attractive rival, Haruko, using the bizarre obsession everyone seems to have with her arms as the first round of fire. Haruko counters that she disagrees and thinks Kazumi is the more attractive because of her low cut dress designed to show off her ample bosom. This line of conversation makes the men feel very awkward, especially when asked for their opinion but someone then attempts to move to a higher level by discussing similar themes in the works of Kawabata and Tanizaki, though this flies over the heads of some of the guests prompting a return to the slightly unpleasant atmosphere of the earlier part of the evening.

If Kazumi is attempting to remain the dominant female at her own party, the men have various other concerns mostly bound up with their working relationships. Business and pleasure rarely mix, at least not at parties, and so there’s an immense amount of politeness and de-escalation involved in the way in which they talk to each other. Mr. Soejima (Kenji Iwaya) – Kazumi’s husband, the host, and the owner of this fine villa has organised the party as a networking event at which Haruko’s husband, Taro (Ryuta Furuta), delivered the keynote speech. Another company guest, Masato (Takashi Okabe), is known and not known as he’s recently lost an awful lot of weight thanks to gastric surgery which means no one quite recognises him and despite having been quite a drinker in the past he is now supposed to be avoiding alcohol altogether. While Masato spends most of the evening sitting quietly to the side, Tanoura seems to get dragged into arguments despite his attempts to remain neutral and polite, eventually bursting into tears as he thinks about the horrors of Syria – not a side of him this hard-nosed, business focused gathering is likely to find endearing.

Alcohol flows, secrets are revealed and flirting is embarked upon as pretty much everyone is after Haruko who is dismayed to find her husband either hardly notices or is actively allowing other men to flirt with her to increase his networking potential. The arrival of the Soejima’s son, Teruo, throws another kind of energy into the room as he reveals juicy details about his parents’ marriage and becomes the subject of a few barbed comments from his father. Teruo is young and handsome, becoming something of a mirror for the ways that Haruko has dominated the conversation despite his mother’s best efforts to remain in charge, even matching her in the beauty of his arms. As the evening finally draws to a close sex and death mingle across the crowded terrace filled with onlookers not sure in which direction to cast their gaze.

Yamauchi sticks to his one set conceit but shoots it from various angles to best capture the drama erupting amongst this group of not quite friends. The two women face off against each other while their husbands do the same only with tales of their masculine exploits. No one quite knows how to behave now that they’ve moved away from the business table, who they’re supposed to be and what their proper place is, leading to a dangerous destabilising of the established social order. Haruko, at least, is striking out to prove she’s more than her husband’s wife even if she was made to come to this party against her will and has wanted to go home for ages.

Opting for an appropriately surreal, retro edge, Yamauchi closes with a series of “you have been watching” portraits and the sight of an adorable small furry squirrel captured in the garden to remind you that not everything here is ugly and attempting to misrepresent itself to get the best out of a difficult social situation. Hilarious, if excruciating, At the Terrace neatly sends up the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie as they lie, deflect, and sometimes spar in order to conform to their expected social roles only to inadvertently destroy them through improper application.


At the Terrace was screened at the Udine Far East Film Festival 2017.

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Hospitalité (歓待, Koji Fukada, 2010)

hospitaliteFrom the Ozu-esque, classic calligraphy of its elegant title sequence, you might expecting a rather different kind of family drama than the one you find in Koji Fukada’s Hospitalité (歓待, Kantai). Though his compositions lean more towards the conventional, Fukada aims somewhere between a more restrained The Family Game and a much less explosive Theorem as he uses the family as a microcosmic analogy for his country’s attitudes towards “outside intrusion”. An absurdist tale of dysfunctional families and hypocritical social standards, Hospitalité takes a long hard look at whom exactly you regard as “guest” and how much you’re really prepared to take care of them.

The Kobayashis run a small printers shop in a rundown suburban backwater. Son Mikio has inherited the business and lives above it with his second wife, Natsuki, and his daughter from a previous marriage, Eriko. Older sister Seiko has recently moved back in following a divorce though she also has a vague idea of wanting to study abroad. Things start to go haywire when little Eriko’s pet parakeet absconds from the family home. Heartbroken, she designs a special flyer to try and find it which brings them to the attention of “old friend” Kagawa who claims to have seen the bird somewhere near the station.

Kagawa hangs round a little longer than necessary chatting to the couple when their assistant suddenly keels over. This allows a convenient opening for Kagawa to volunteer his services at the print shop – luckily he knows how to handle the machines. He quickly moves into their spare upstairs room before also moving in his “foreign wife”, Annabelle, and a bunch of other non-Japanese people by which time he’s well and truly wrested control of the mini printshop empire away from the mild mannered Mikio and caused a degree of local panic in the process.

The Kobayashis are “hospitable” people. To begin with they don’t mind having this “old friend” hanging around and helping him out by letting him stay and work in the shop. When he suddenly introduces his wife without warning they may feel he’s taking advantage but anyway they go along with it. Annabelle, from “Brazil”, or was it “Bosnia”, gives the impression of someone who is always pretending their language skills aren’t as good as they really are so people let their guard down around her. She teaches “salsa”, apparently, and starts to get on Natsuki’s nerves by usurping her position as resident English speaker.

The town itself is not quite as charitable as the Kobayashis as evidenced by the older lady who keeps dropping by with petitions for the neighbourhood watch to which she’d also like to recruit the ladies of the house. She’s worried about the increasing number of “foreigners” in the area which she now feels is becoming “dangerous” as a consequence. That’s not to mention the proposed “beautification” plan for the park (which really means getting rid of all those people who sleep there in cardboard boxes). That said, though neither of the women is particularly interested in joining the neighbourhood watch or against the idea of non-Japanese people coming to live in their town, they go along with the woman and her plans not to rock the boat. They run a business here after all so they have an interest in keeping the town stable and in maintaining good social relations with their neighbours, so it makes sense to just put up with whatever bigoted nonsense they’re spouting, right?

For all their “lascivious dancing”, topless sunbathing, and “promiscuous immorality”…the foreigners are quite clearly not as much of a problem as the underlying hypocrisy which runs through the Kobayashis’ world. When Kagawa asks about Mikio’s previous wife, he says “she got sick” leading him to think Mikio is a widower which isn’t quite true but is a less embarrassing for explanation for Mikio to offer than what really happened. There’s an obvious tension between Mikio and Natsuki as well as with the recently returned older sister. As soon as Kagawa begins to work his magic, driving a pneumatic drill right into all of those tiny cracks and fractures which exist between a husband and a wife, everything begins to fall apart though in an equally quiet and subtle fashion. However, people have need of their fantasies and even after Kagawa has exposed the holes in their marriage, Mikio and Natsuki seem content to simply paper over their differences and go back to pretending everything’s fine just like before.

A surrealist’s meditation on xenophobia, social mores, and what happens when a caged bird decides to be free, Hospitalité is a suitably nuanced, not to mention frequently amusing, look at contemporary small town mentality. Everyone is so invested in maintaining a particular quality of personal truth, be it in a hospitable place which thinks the answer to people cluttering up the park with their cardboard boxes is to “beautify” the area by throwing them out, or a neighbourhood watch group that’s all egos with a local place for local people mentality, that maintaining the lies is much more important than solving the underlying problem. Koji Fukada’s farcical approach to the absurdity of everyday life is a good natured and humorous one, but the problems at its core are all too real.


Hospitalité was released on DVD in the US by Filmmovement and still appears to be in print though the distributor’s website is constant 403.

English subtitled trailer: