How much would you pay for someone to act as your family member, friend, or even significant other? In Rent A Family Inc. directed by Kaspar Astrup Schroder, you get a first-hand look at the life of a man named Ryuichi who runs a Japanese company called “I Want To Cheer You Up Ltd,” and witness ordinary people who will pay someone (or in some cases many people) to keep secrets hidden, in order to preserve their dignity and sometimes even to save themselves embarrassment in business, family or social situations.
At 44-years old, Ryuichi is a hard-working man trying desperately to provide for his family. Taking any possible job, making ends meet is still a struggle. After finding a niche in renting himself out to clients (keep in mind, there is no sexual component to the services he offers) and seeing them happy, he feels that he is contributing something positive to their lives and in a way masking his own pain. His miserable existence remains stagnant being in a loveless marriage, and feeling unappreciated, especially by his children. For him, it’s not about the money, and there are no moral judgments to be made, it is all about happiness. His clients are very happy with his professional services.
The problem remains that Ryuichi’s double-life is impacting the family because no one knows what he does. His wife complains that he is always tired, comes home late, and is constantly on his laptop or cell phone. One moment she recalls he came home with a brand new car and never said anything about how he got it. He sleeps on the floor in a separate room, while his wife and son sleep in what was once their master bedroom. Ryuichi doesn’t condone this behaviour, but he has no choice, he really has no say in anything that goes on in the household. His wife has no idea what he actually does and doesn’t care either. She just knows that the bills are paid. As time goes on though, business starts slowing down and he gets laid off from his regular job, so the pressure becomes too much and Ryuichi is faced with a huge dilemma whether to disclose his unusual business practices to his family once and for all.
In the film, you can clearly see the unspoken tension that is happening. It’s almost like when you see two people who are divorcing and they are just going through the motions. It’s an interesting look at the Japanese culture and what lengths people will go to in order to for societal acceptance, and what is known as “saving face.” We get to watch several business transactions in real time too, which is intriguing. The director really focuses in on a lot of cultural mannerisms, taboos, different aspects of life for the family as a unit and separately and also explores the dynamics of interpersonal relationships with a critical eye.
One sad part had to be when Ryuichi recalled when he and his wife would go out together. Back in the earlier days of their marriage, they were romantic and held hands, a simple gesture. During one outing her friends caught them holding hands and they started teasing her. Since then, they don’t go out together anymore. Another sullen part in the film was about Father’s Day and he mentioned all the good memories when his kids were little, and how they made him at least a home-made card. Now, to get a pair of socks would make him smile, instead of no acknowledgement at all. It brings a tear to your eye.
With saying that, as much of a compassionate and heartfelt connection was made with Ryuichi, my emotions went to feelings of anger because of his complacent attitude to not change his situation and basically become numb. As Ryuichi mentions, “I’m like a handyman fixing people’s social relationships,” and so as viewers, we are glued to the screen for 80 intense minutes to find out whether or not it is too late for him to fix his own.
The film was very well done and I believe it will make people think critically about their choices in life and how it affects others. It is true for many that sometimes you don’t realize what comes with the price you pay for happiness.