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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Looks are deceiving in ‘Rent A Family Inc.’

Ryuichi+Ichinokawa+prepares+for+an+unusual+day+of+work.

Ryuichi Ichinokawa prepares for an unusual day of work.

Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s film “Rent A Family Inc.” is not your average slice-of-life documentary. The film centers on Ryuichi Ichinokawa, a Japanese entrepreneur whose business, Hagemashi Tai, (which in English means, “I want to cheer you up”) involves renting out fake family members and friends to clients desperate to keep up appearances.
In a culture where kinship is of the utmost importance, Ichinokawa helps clients maintain their honor and social favorability by hiding their secrets. He and his roughly 30-person team of stand-ins are hired to attend a range of social events. His stand-ins act as virtually anyone, from friends and parents, to spouses and siblings. He, too, frequently acts as a stand-in as well, and over the course of the film pretends to be a father, husband, and an uncle.
Though the film’s initial focus is Ichinokawa’s unconventional business, this focus gradually becomes somewhat of a subplot, as his internal conflicts and deteriorating family life are revealed. Initially, Ichinokawa appears to have a simple life with a seemingly stable family and successful business, but the audience quickly finds that there is more than meets the eye.
Beneath the surface, Ichinokawa’s family is suffering. Striving to help everyone but himself, Ichinokawa finds himself depressed and isolated. Absorbed by his work, he distances himself from his family. When he is not out on an assignment, he spends his time sleeping or sitting silently at his computer, intently concentrating on his work. He spends a limited amount of time engaging with his family, preferring to spend time with his tiny lap dog, Chappi, on whom he dotes.
Lonely and in need of an objective ear, Ichinokawa candidly confides in the film’s interviewers, revealing his darkest demons with disturbing matter-of-factness. He openly discusses his failing marriage, his shallow relationship with his sons, and the family’s financial struggles. All of these issues are compounded by the fact that Ichinokawa is hiding his work from his family, fearing their judgment and disapproval. As an escape, he thumbs through Hawaiian travel guides, longingly fantasizing about a simpler life. It becomes increasingly clear that Ichinokawa’s own life proves just as complicated as those of his clients.
“Rent A Family Inc.” is part of an emergent wave of artistic documentary film. The editing is top-notch. It is both sharp and thoughtful. Schröder uses a variety of techniques to give the film a futuristic feel. Such techniques include hovering white captions, selective frame composition, and the use of focusing techniques. In terms of audio, the film’s violin-heavy soundtrack successfully provokes intrigue. Also scattered throughout the film are audible interview questions, contributing to the film’s authenticity. Overall, the cinematic effects are well chosen and serve to enhance an already interesting film.
Bizarrely touching, “Rent A Family Inc.” boldly delves into the stranger parts of the human experience. Though the subject matter is rather odd, audiences will be able to relate to the overarching themes of the film. It challenges the audience to question and criticize the social pressures that we all face. This engaging film is a must-see and will leave audiences with new perceptions of reality.