Mie O Haru (Eriko, Pretended): Written and directed by Akiyo Fujimura. Starring: Haruka Kubo, Atsuya Okada, Miki Nitori, Hiromi Shinju, and Mayumi. Running Time: 93 minutes.
Eriko, Pretended, the debut feature film of Akiyo Fujimura, centers around the curious job of being a mourner-for-hire, someone sought out by the deceased beforehand to fill out the seats at their funeral and ensure that people cry properly to help them pass into the next world. Some of you may read that and initially assume it’s just another one of those weird Japanese things, but seat- and-crown filling is actually a tried and true ego-stroking measure across the globe, so hold back on the stereotypes there, pal.
The film brings us into this interesting field through the story of Eriko, your standard young adult protagonist in a deep personal crisis, with no passion or interest or idea in where she should go next. She’s jolted out of her reveries when she hears her sister died in an accident, and she finds herself back in the country dealing with relatives she can barely stand, and trying to take care of a nephew she barely knows. Intrigued by an old, local mourner-for-hire who seems to be able to make whole rooms cry at will, she decides to cast the die and see if this field of work is for her.
It’s a gentle, touchingly made film, but a bit underwhelming; the concept may have worked better as a short film, as the stretches to fill time are very noticeable in spots. This is not a knock on the director, though, since that is a difficulty every filmmakers encounters at first. Fujimura is able to bring a lot of her actors with fairly little; the two best shots in the film center on Eriko’s face as her emotions build up and up and up, and finally bubble over the surface. It’s a role that effectively carries the feel of someone in deep personal crisis.
There are moments that bring much-needed levity to the proceedings- an audition interrupted by a request to perform an old beer commercial, and a hilarious scene where Eriko competes against rival mourners going way over the top- but unfortunately they are few and far between. This is a film that could have benefited greatly from a more energetic tone, given it’s fairly quiet matter. It is a unique and fascinating choice for a first film though, and I am very much interested in seeing what Fujimura decides to do next.