Even though I live in Tokyo, I don’t see new Japanese films as often as I probably should, and when I do, I am sometimes disappointed. The Tokyo International Film Festival is a good chance to remedy this every year, and I try to see as many Japanese films as I can, but I have to make compromises to see films from other countries that will probably never been shown in Tokyo again.
Quartet! is the first film I saw in this years TIFF, having completely missed the first day. This is pretty typical weepy Japanese fare, extolling the virtues of making sacrificies for the family. In this case, it is a junior high school boy who has already displayed considerable talent on the violin, who struggles to save his dysfunctional family by getting them to form a classical music quartet. His parents have long since given up on music careers, as has his his older sister who gave up the flute and became a juvenile delinquent. Finally getting the family together, he is invited to join a proper orchestra, and must make the choice between his future career and his family, as everything builds up to a very predictable and very sentimental climax. The movie hits all the cliches, including a scene of the main character riding on the back of a motorcycle while clutching the waist and snuggling the shoulder of the person they have a crush on, something that is in just about every coming-of-age film to come out of Japan since the invention of motorcycles.
This all sounds pretty bad, but the music is good. The fact that many of the actors have backgrounds in music or are working musicians, including an orchestra conductor playing himself, certainly didn’t hurt. Another thing that saved the movie is the perfomance of Ayame Goriki as the deliquent daughter, who eventually picks up the flute again. Although the is given all the stereotypical high school girl mannerism and speech by the script, Goriki has a talent for expressing emotion. The film was shot in Urayasu city, which was heavily damaged by the March 11 earthquake, and many volunteers from the town cooperated in getting the film made, an unexpected turn that is featured in a slideshow during the closing credits and in all the marketing materials, and this backstory may be better than the actual film.