A good team effort from Mitani's players but a minor work
Koki Mitani directed "Rajio no Jikan" which had success internationally under the title "Goodbye Mr MacDonald". Minna no Ie ("Everybody's House") has a similar character but is a much more personal film and unlikely to have the same wider appeal.
This is a comedy and Mitani has come up trumps again with his actors. Where this film falls short of previous efforts is the pace and structure of the script. The situation this time is a well-to-do middle class couple building their family home. The wife wants modernity and looks to hire a young interior designer with a growing reputation. Unfortunately, he does not have the licences to handle the project in total so the wife's father, a contractor of the old school, is brought in to complete the team.
There are good jokes as new Japan meets old Japan and the couple find themselves making more and more compromises to see the project through. This idea resembles the structure of "Rajio no Jikan" where the original idea of the housewife's play is also pulled apart by characters stretching their egos and forcing unhappy compromises.
However, whereas the time constraint of a live radio broadcast in the earlier film forced on the spot decisions with ludicrous and immediate consequences, the building of the house is over a longer period. Mitani attempts to create a sense of urgency by stipulating that the house has to be built by a certain date but this seems artificial and so this film lacks the tension that made the first such a popular success. He includes some trademark tracking shots but they don't seem to add to the film particularly, although they are certainly very skillfully executed.
The film is still funny but is also more sentimental. This is no bad thing and the acting carries off these scenes for the most part. Just to draw the connection with the earlier film himself, the director gets Kyoko Toda to reprise her role as the veteran actress in a fleeting cameo where she talks with her manager in a bar. While I was enjoying the film, this did make me think that Mitani had taken a step back with this film when he could have gone forward.
I saw this film on the double DVD package which has been released in Japan, unfortunately at the high price of 6000 yen. The DVD has English subtitles so this may yet make its way out of Japan in a cheaper format. The special features disc shows Mitani in a very good light. He gets Mark Schilling, a well-known writer and critic of Japanese films, to interview him in English and he plays for laughs while still managing to talk sensibly about the film. He even gets his four main actors in on the joke as they also speak in English (and one in French) about the film (subtitled in Japanese for the Japanese audience). This is a good spoof of a "Making" documentary and a joke about Mitani's own "international" reputation.
This film was a success in Japan and touched a wide audience. It might seem a little harsh to score this film only 6 but I was hoping for more. A similar situation faced Juzo Itami, who never managed to match the international success of "Tampopo" but "Mimbo no Onna", known as "A Taxing Woman" in the West, was an excellent film nevertheless which only missed the same success because the international audience was not so familiar with the situation. "Miina no Ie" seems to see Mitani settling back into a comfortable chair when he clearly has the skills to do more. He jokes on the DVD about how he sees himself in rivalry with Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli but few would see "Spirited Away" as a step backwards from "Princess Mononoke" so we will look to Mitani's next project to deliver on this promise.
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