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article imageReview: ‘Rent a Family Inc.’ is an illusion of normalcy Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Apr 28, 2013 in Entertainment
‘Rent a Family Inc.’ is about a Japanese married father of two who spends his days moonlighting as a social stand-in while being relatively absent from his own home.
Many people have experienced severe anxiety when forced to attend an important function alone. Weddings, business dinners or any social event requiring a command performance can convince a person that attending with a fake partner is better than no partner. This scenario has been the subject of numerous movies, but in Rent a Family Inc. filmmakers record a real-life proprietor in the business of faking it.
Ryuichi Ichinokawa owns and operates “I Want to Cheer You Up Inc.” People contact him to purchase the services of a stand-in to participate in various functions. Employing 20 to 30 staff, Ichinokawa believes he’s a “handyman fixing people’s social relationships.” For him and his staff, it’s more than a job; they’re in the business of helping their clients. But on the flipside, Ichinokawa’s personal life is completely dysfunctional. He and his wife don’t communicate, living separate lives under the same roof.
Even though weddings are the most popular request, the first appointment that introduces audiences to Ichinokawa and his profession is not the typical situation that one may have expected. He is asked to stand in as a woman’s new husband and convince her ex-husband to give her child support. The job goes well and all parties leave satisfied. The company’s website is No. 1 in search engines for stand-in services and a typical month can include 12 engagements of pretending to be someone’s family member, friend or colleague, with the occasional need to assemble an entire wedding party.
Ichinokawa keeps the nature of his business a secret from his family, believing that they’d judge him because of its peculiarity. But they so rarely speak to each other it’s not difficult to keep the truth hidden. His marriage is miserable, though he appears to be the only one suffering. Forced out of his bed by his youngest son, Ichinokawa sleeps on a mattress on the floor of the child’s room. He distances himself from his family by constantly staring at the computer or television, then is shocked when they don’t show their appreciation for his contributions to the home. Instead Ichinokawa showers his affections on the family dog.
Director Kaspar Astrup Schröder is sometimes a fly on the wall, but more often engages with the family. Questioning the couple, it often mimics marriage counselling. He prods them about the demise of their relationship, forcing them to be honest about their current situation. The contrast between his depressing domestic life and fulfilling work life is fascinating.
Rent a Family Inc. is screening during Hot Docs, the largest documentary film festival in North America, which runs April 25 to May 5 in Toronto.
More about Rent a Family Inc, Hot docs, Documentary, I want to cheer you up, Japan
 
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