Based on the novel from Kiyoshi Shigematsu, this is the story of Makoto Tanaka, a 40-years-old who has remarried. His wife is Nanae and they care for 2 daughters from Nanae’s prior marriage. Makoto tries to have an ordinary family but Nanae becomes pregnant and things are bound to change.
WARNING: May contains trace of spoilers! People allergic to the discussion of any plot’s elements before seeing a movie are strongly advised to take the necessary precautions for their safety and should avoid reading further.
Dear Étranger is an average Japanese family drama: it’s both funny and sad, offers excellent acting but is rather slow moving. It’s a touching story about Makoto, a man in his forties, who has remarried and must deal with the difficulties of a blended family. He has one pre-teen girl (Saori) from a previous marriage (with Yuka). His new wife, Sanae, has two daughters (Kaoru, a tweenager, and Eriko, a preschooler) from her own previous marriage (with Sawada, who used to beat her and the children). When she gets pregnant, the delicate balance of their couple is challenged. Of course, in such situation, the children are suffering the most (with emotional or psychological stress). Can they really call themselves a “family”? Can he call himself a “dad”? Can he succeeds to keep a good relationship with BOTH his tweenage daughters? Or is he just a “dear stranger” to them?
The movie tackle quite realistically many aspects of the modern Japanese society: divorce, one of its causes (domestic violence) and one of its increasingly frequent consequences, the stepfamily. Divorce in Japan is relatively similar to what it is in the West (although there is no joint custody). Still not as frequent as in the West, the Japanese divorce rate has been steadily increasing (up to one in three marriages, quadrupling the rate of the post-WW2 era — mostly among retiring-age couples) but it has recently started to decrease due to a corresponding diminution in marriages (men are too busy at work and don’t feel economically confident enough to seek marriage and have children). The Japanese society is evolving and it is not surprising that we also see an increase in the number of female movie directors, who are more likely to want to use sociological theme in their storytelling.
I cannot pass over in silence the superb inclined elevator that regularly appears in the film. The Nashion inclined elevator (ナシオン斜行エレベーター / Nashion shakō erebētā) is located in Higashiyamadai, Nishinomiya (Hyōgo prefecture) near Kobe and Osaka. Many scenes were shot in that area. It offers a beautiful scenery but might also symbolise the hardship of the main protagonist as he must step up to resolve his delicate situation.
Anyway, when you put together two interesting writer and script-writer, a skilled director (who already came to the FFM in 2014 with A Drop of the Grapevine) and a great cast of actors, you can only get a good movie. And, apparently, the Jury of the 2017 Montreal World Film Festival agreed with this, since they awarded Dear Étranger with the Special Grand Prix of the Jury (a kind of “second best” award).
Dear Etranger (幼な子われらに生まれ / Osanago Warera ni umare / lit. “Children born to us” or We’re having a Baby): Japan, 2017, 127 mins; Dir.: Yukiko Mishima; Scr.: Haruhiko Arai (based on a novel by Kiyoshi Shigematsu); Cast: Tadanobu Asano (Makoto Tanaka), Rena Tanaka (Nanae), Shinobu Terajima (Yuka), Raiju Kamata (Saori), Sara Minami (Kaoru), Miu Arai (Eriko), Kankurô Kudô (Sawada), Shingo Mizusawa, Narushi Ikeda.
Film screened at the Montreal World Film Festival on Friday September 1st 2017 (Cinema Imperial, 19:00 — the attendance was about an hundred people) as part of the “World Competition” segment. Shinji Sakoda, the international sales representative from Pony Canyon, was there to introduce the movie.
For more information you can visit the following websites:
[ AsianWiki — IMDb — Official web — Vimeo — Youtube ]
Dear Etranger © 2016「幼な子われらに生まれ」製作委員会.
See also the comments of Mark Schilling (Japan Times) and Claude R. Blouin (Shomingeki).
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