In an era of “on-demand” economy, “pay-as-you-go” delivery models, “hyper customized” business solutions and “authentic” experiences, what could be more lucrative or ludicrous or tragically lonesome – depending on how you see it – than the commoditization of intimate relationships and private emotions. A man called Yuichi Ishii runs the unique titular business in Tokyo which provides family members and friends on rent – a fascinating, albeit ethically troubling, idea that immediately struck a chord with Werner Herzog, and formed the premise for the strangely evocative and engrossing Family Romance, LLC. In an impish artistic choice in keeping with the theme of fakery and make-believe, he made a feature film with the aesthetics of documentary, and even cast Ishii as himself. In its marvelous central set-piece, he pretends to 12-year Mahiro as her long absent father who’d got divorced from her mother (Ichii’s employer for this job) and had moved out of their lives a decade back, but now wants to renew connect with his daughter. The way their relationship delicately progresses, leading to the gradual opening up of this shy, soft-spoken, lonely girl, was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. This central arc was surrounded by various smaller episodes – a middle-aged woman who hopes to recreate the ecstasy of the lottery she once won, a wannabe social media influencer using fake paparazzi to enhance her popularity, employing a stand-in husband for a family gathering, etc. The recursive loop of "fiction masquerading as fact" (verité style of filmmaking) on "fiction masquerading as fact" (the business itself) laced meta elements into this sly commentary on the consumerism and idiosyncrasies of the Japanese society, and meditation on the fragility, loneliness and performative nature of relationships.
Director: Werner Herzog