Film Review: Family Romance LLC

Werner Herzog’s documentary style drama Family Romance LLC depicts a bizarre but fascinating phenomenon. The film is both amusing and disquieting.

Yuichi Ishii runs a company offering an usual service. Ishii offers fake family members; actors who pretend to be relatives to fulfil their clients wishes…

Family Romance LLC focuses on a very interesting, and for many alien concept; hiring out pretend family members to meet the varying needs of clients. Written and directed by Werner Herzog, the film is a series of reenactments by Ishii, who plays himself. The film focuses on a series of meetings and services provided by Ishii and his colleagues.

The narrative follows Ishii as he carries out several jobs and meets with a variety of clients. Herzog keeps returning to the first client; a young girl whose mother has paid Ishii to act as her estranged father. By choosing to focus on this story, the moral quandary is placed at the very centre of film. For both protagonist, those that hire out the service, and the recipients (some would say victims) the ethical dilemma of such a service is laid bare. Herzog approaches this in a careful and measured way to begin with. As the narrative progresses, these issues grow louder. 

Family Romance LLC highlights the setting very much as providing the context for the business. Using plenty of long shots, and some aerial ones, Herzog underlines the sense of alienation in a city bursting with people. He also highlights some uniquely Japanese anachronisms, such as worker who needs to save face over a mistake to both his boss and his family. The very end of the film is great; it really emphasises the toll such an endeavour takes. Throughout, Herzog provides his great style of humour, whilst never neglecting more serious aspects of the subject.

With Family Romance LLC, Herzog once again shows his flair for capturing the various shades of humanity. An intriguing watch.

Family Romance LLC is being screened at BFI London Film Festival in October 2019.

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