Friday, February 02, 2007

Kûchû teien (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2005) aka Hanging Garden

Hanging Garden (Toshiaki Toyoda, 2005)
Rating: 8.9

Toshiaki Toyoda’s film Hanging Garden (2005) revolves around the Kyobashi family and their acquaintances. The Kyobashi family lives in an apartment within the Grand Maison housing project in a suburb of Tokyo, Japan. I would like to focus my examination of setting on the family dining area, and more specifically the dinner table. The opening shot of the film introduces us to the family home while also alluding to a false utopia by showing a slowly revolving lampshade above the dinner table with painted imagery of The Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Babylon often implies a city or place of great luxury, sensuality, and often vice and corruption. The Kyobashi wears the veil of a familial paradise by enforcing a rule where everyone must tell the truth about everything, but of course each family member has their moments of corruption and secrecy.
Throughout the film the dinner table functions as a town meeting hall of sorts. This is really the only setting in which all of the family members meet together in one place. In the opening scene of the film Mana, the daugher, asks her parents how she was conceived and receives an immediate and honest response which established an expected precedent for the family to follow. However, it is soon revealed that Takashi, the father has neither been faithful, nor honest with his wife, Eriko. The second dinner table scene involves one of Takashi’s lovers who coincidentally is son, Ko’s new tutor. Unlike the opening sequence, this scene is all about lies and deceit as Mina and Takashi pretend to be meeting for the first time. The rest of the family puts on the facade of being happy, as well despite their personal troubles. The scene almost resembles a luxurious feast as Eriko, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, happily refills her husbands beer.
The revelry continues during the third and final scene at the dinner table when the family celebrates the birthdays of Mina and Eriko’s mother Sacchin. The camera slowly pans around the table like the lampshade above them and like the hanging plants in Eriko’s own garden. Eventually the false sense of reality begins to crumble and the secrets are all revealed. Mina accuses the family of putting on a “school play,” by ignoring the ugly truth and pretending to be a happy family. After this incident Takashi’s stash of magazine are found, and a picture of Mana is identified. Sacchin recognizes the Wild Monkey, which leads to her revealing Ko and Mana have both been there as well. Eriko admits to knowing about her husbands unfaithfulness here as well, but perhaps the most important revelation during this scene is Eriko’s reclusive past and awkward relationship with her mother. The mother/daughter confrontation is juxtaposed with the bright burning candles on the birthday cake and concludes with Sacchin slowly blowing out her candles while repeating “Start over, do it over.” In the beginning the setting acts as a paradise for Eriko, a sanctuary from truth and reality. By the end of the film, their “Babylon” is in ruins, but not without hope. Together as a unit after 17 years the family is still strong and has love for one another despite their faults.

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