Survival Family (Sabaibaru famirî) falls into that wonderful category of movies you do not know anything about and when you see them they turn out to be outstanding. Especially considering where we saw it! In a festival such as Sitges where everything is horror, blood, and adrenaline. This, instead, is some sort of modern fairy tale that ends up being a pleasant revelation, a pearl of absolute value.
Everything starts in Tokyo, a frantic city where people live in mini-apartments, work fifteen hours a day and rely completely on their electronic devices. Smartphones, tablets, computers, wearables… you name it. They have practically invented technologies and digital, making these devices an integral part of their and our lives.
The Suzuki family does not stand out for originality. The father (Fumiyo Kohinata) is a clerk with a large corporation wearing an unattractive wig, the mother is a housewife, their son a shy college student and the daughter some kind of social media princess. They are an urbanized family, accustomed to the city life and all its conveniences.
One morning, thou, Yoshiyuki (the father) realizes he woke up late because the alarm did not ring. He gets up and finds his wife in panic because the TV is not turning on. The kids are desperate because their cell phone has not been charged overnight, despite being well connected to the grip. Soon, the Suzukis will figure out that it is not a problem of their apartment or building, it is the whole city to be without energy. Nothing that needs electricity or batteries is working. Soon, the most common services will be lacking, from public transport to tap water or food supply.
The first signs of collective panic begin to appear after a few days. The energy does not return and people start looting supermarkets by taking away all water, food, and medicines. The Suzuki family is dismayed. They try to reach the airport, but there are no working planes, so they decide to embark on a heroic voyage through Japan to reach the village where their grandfather lives, hoping to find shelter, food, and water.
The journey will radically transform the protagonists, letting them discover a new personal identity and also a family one. Something they didn’t know before. And this is precisely the deepest grace of Survival Family. A movie that allows us all to reflect on the evolution we should experience in such a situation.
What happens to Yui (the very young and talented Wakana Aoi) is, in this sense, emblematic. Three key scenes involving her mark clearly the evolution of the entire family. At the beginning, we see her as a grumpy little girl who is always complaining. Toward the half (maybe a bit more) of the film, we see her bursting into tears in front of the first hot meal she sees in weeks and we understand that her maturation has come to an end. And finally, when she smiles while watching a picture taken at the beginning of the blackout, she celebrates the physical and spiritual journey she had with her family. A journey that led them to be the ones that they are today.
Survival Family is a movie for everybody. You will be able to enjoy it with your kids, partner, friends or even with your parents. We depend so much on electricity that we can all put ourselves in the shoes of the Suzuki family and sympathize with each one of them.
The script is well done and wisely uses the journey element to describe the evolution of the characters. To be honest, I had a couple of mental questions during the projection… for example, why didn’t they try to use more alternative energies like the solar one or the wind? There were some additional steps to take before returning to the stone age. True that, at a certain point, a steam train appears, but nothing more.
Anyway, a big bravo, for the four main cast members and also to the author and director Mr. Shinobu Yaguchi (Waterboys, Swing Girls). An artist capable of surprising us with a movie that has no CGI, gangster killing or awful monsters (something quite typical of contemporary Asian cinema), but surely has an engaging incipit and a good dose of humanity. Because, as usual, are the emotions that let a story to leave a mark in the audience.