‘Family Romance, LLC‘ is at once weird, funny, bittersweet and frustrating. It is also a strange detour for German filmmaker Werner Herzog who has been directing narration-heavy documentaries as of late. While it does have the obscurities of typical Herzog ventures, this Japanese detour finds the auteur spending his off time in the cherry blossom gardens of illusionary relationships.
Watching the film would clue you into the idea of understanding how an illusionary life is sometimes better than a real one. It would also make you understand that relationships play a tricky role in the life of lonesome people. This makes Herzog’s idea of diving into the real-life phenomenon especially intriguing. Family Romance, LLC is actually a real company in Japan. A company that has prevailed for 11 years – providing actors to people in need of loaned-out relationships. These actors are basically stand-ins for the absent people in someone’s life.
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The film, however, doesn’t only fixate on this bizarre real-life premise. It dives into a singular feeling of existence though the character of Ichii Yuchii. Herzog perpetrates us through a series of vignettes where Yuchii and his associates act like different people in random people’s lives in order to make them feel good about themselves. In a way, it’s a therapeutic experience. But like any kind of therapy – which takes a toll on the person providing it, the business it taking a toll on Yuchii. There’s a point in the film where he visits a coffin maker to see if a coffin fits him.
Herzog orchestrates his talent for understanding the strange nature of human existence. Much like one of his recent documentaries about technology, this one too has some low-key yet peculiar observations about how the internet is more than a connecting tissue for people. A strange robot hotel serves as a gateway into the new world and what is in store for Yuchii and his company. It’s both funny and sad at the same time. Herzog also makes sure that certain scenes are thrown in for the sake of subverting the central story of a young teenage girl trying to find meaning and love in an estranged father.
While most of ‘Family Romance, LLC‘ works in the realm of the German director’s fascinating filmography, none of it ever stays with you. The characters – who are mostly real people and not actors, don’t manage to be enigmatic enough to serve the theme well. Moreover, Herzog doesn’t really resolve anything with his narrative turn towards the final act. This is especially frustrating when a film about human relations never manages to expand on the reason behind its seemingly interesting premise. Making the entire arc a forgettable story.