Berlin 2014: 'The Little House' review

A faded postcard from a bygone era, Japanese director Yôji Yamada's The Little House (2014) drifted through this year's Berlinale Competition like cherry blossom on the breeze, surprisingly scooping the Best Actress Bear for lead Haru Kuroki. It's not that Kuroki's performance is poor, per se; it's just that so little about Yamada's latest is even vaguely memorable that nuanced performances such as these are swept up in the film's lapping waves of sentimentality and nostalgia. Old-fashioned to the extreme, so much of The Little House is gentle homage that there's barely enough to condone its festival presence.

Following the funeral of his recently deceased grandmother, Taki (Chieko Baisho), grandson Takeshi (Satoshi Tsumabuki) uncovers the last few pages of his relation's memoirs. In flashback, we see a younger Taki (played by Kuroki) working as a housemaid for the affluent Hirai family in a little red-roofed Tokyo house. Lord of the manor is toymaker Masaki (Takataro Kataoka), who spends most of his time travelling Japan whilst also hoping to lure in foreign interest. As the Second World War engulf the country and its people, Masaki's lonely wife, Tokiko (Takako Matsu), falls in love with one of her husband's colleagues, effeminate art school graduate Shoji (Hidetaka Yoshioka), to the knowledge of only herself and Taki.

Adultery and the consequent loss of honour has been a rich theme in Japanese cinema since the era of Ozu and before, but sadly Yamada (perhaps best know for 2002's The Twilight Samurai, another period piece), doesn't do anything particularly knew or interesting with the topic in The Little House. A pleasing distinction between the present and rose-tinted past is created through heightened use of colour and accentuated lighting techniques, but the film's familiar subject matter struggles to keep up with some otherwise arresting aesthetics. A disappointingly C-grade offering, unfortunately, from one of Japan's most esteemed contemporary family drama directors.

The 2014 Berlin Film Festival takes place from 6-16 February. For more of our coverage, simply follow this link.

Daniel Green


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