The Happy Family Plan introduces us to a Japanese game show named “Happy Family Plan” which sees fathers participate in challenges, like memorising breeds of dogs or playing musical instruments in order to win prizes for their family. Here we meet Fujio. He lost his job in the 1990s economic downturn in Japan, and relocates his wife and kids to to his father-in-law’s home in Yokohama. His wife, Yuko, opens her own business and the kids settle in to their new lives, which leaves Fujio to try and figure out what to do with himself. Yuko and Fujio’s son secretly enters the family as contestants on the “Happy Family Plan” show. Having lost money in a failed business venture, Fujio agrees to take up the challenge – he needs to learn how to play Home Sweet Home’ on the piano and play it on live TV in 7 days time. That shouldn’t be too hard. If only he had played piano before!
Thanks to New People Entertainment, this is a title that might have gone under the radar for us if it didn’t get the distribution support it deserved. There’s a sweetness that documents the hero’s family life in its most private moments, however, he also understands his own limitations and is afraid that he will let his family down again. ‘Happy Family Plan’ offered a chance to win those perks – as long as the head of your family would undertake a surprise week-long task. Not getting what I expected was a very pleasant surprise, but this film would have made a monstrous impact on viewers had this film been distributed during the housing crisis or the downfall of the U.S. economy a few years back. This is not just a film with charm, but it could also be essential in some cases.
So, you might be curious how the film structures these elaborate schemes for the family. Families were left with several handheld cameras with instructions to film every day until the show; and those were later gathered and quickly edited for the Big Day. And believe me, those seven days passed very fast. Even if a parent were diligent in learning their task (many were not) the bright lights on a big stage, in front of a live studio audience and TV cameras, could rattle even the most confident of fathers and mothers. The burning need to succeed at a task no matter how great or small and when Fujio finally reaches the stage on the seventh day is the meat and potatoes of the film and luckily, it entertains.
Overall, Happy Family Plan moves at, perhaps, a bizarre pace. Interestingly, prizes ranged from cars, trips abroad, and diamond rings to children’s toys and cute puppies. Part of the fun was watching them pick their items, many already in anticipation of ownership. I found myself rooting for Fujio and the rest of his family, even hoping the best for the others that get involved. The script, by Kota Yamada, tells a simple tale around which complexities swirl – and with a straightforwardness that allows us to get to know the main characters without even really seeming to do much. Director Tsutomo Abe doesn’t go in for flashy camera moves, so we can spend more time soaking in the story and making sure we focus on what is important; the story!