‘Family Romance, LLC’ Review: Werner Herzog’s Comfort for Hire


Ishii Yuichi is the real-life proprietor of the Japanese company that gives this new Werner Herzog movie its title. Yuichi and his handful of associates are impersonators of whomever their clients want them to be. In a world in which we increasingly turn to technology to satisfy our desires, there’s still a need for the human touch — even if that, too, has to be simulated in some way.

The opening of “Family Romance, LLC” shows Yuichi, very proper in a blue suit, waiting at a plaza, and upon spotting a glum-looking teenage girl, approaching her. “I knew it was you right away,” he soon tells the girl, Mahiro. On this assignment, he is the father the girl had never known.

This is startling and unsettling enough. The scenario, which comprises the main thread of this hybrid work of fiction and documentary, gets knottier. Its creepy feeling is ameliorated, and eventually replaced by, an empathetic fascination.

Yuichi has a rigorous ethic. Consulting the girl’s mother, the woman tells him Mahiro’s father has an eye twitch. Yuichi insists it’s actually counterproductive to the desired emotional effect to recreate such tics.

Other assignments toggle between amusing and mortifying. There’s a wedding the father of the bride can’t attend, it is said, because he’s ashamed of his epilepsy. Actually, it’s because he’s an alcoholic who can’t behave. In another scene, Yuichi takes a severe reprimand in the place of a high-speed railroad operator, who stands nearby and watches.

In many of Herzog’s nonfiction films, the director himself is a defining presence. One understands why he wanted to stay behind the camera and off the soundtrack here. This wrinkle in modern social life is best taken in without the mitigation of overt distancing.

Family Romance, LLC
Not rated. In Japanese, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 29 minutes. Watch on Mubi.

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