REVIEW: ‘A Family’ Tries To Tell Too Many Stories For Its Own Good.

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A Family

A Family is a Netflix Original Japanese crime drama starring Go Ayano. When Kenji “Lil Ken” Yamamoto loses his father to suicide, he finds his life going adrift without focus or purpose. Until one day, when he has a chance encounter with a yakuza boss. Soon, Kenji is a member of the yakuza, and he finds himself embroiled in the world of organized crime. But once in, is there ever any going back?

The story of a young man with nothing left to lose being drawn into the promise of brotherhood, loyalty, and success of organized crime is not a new one. Such tales are common in the world of fiction. As with any well-trodden story concept, one has to dig deep and come up with something unique if they want to stand out from the rest of the pack. And while A Family does deliver that uniqueness, much of its impact is lost in the attempt to say too much about too many things.

The story of Kenji, played by Ayano (Homunculus), begins with him as a teen. When the offer to join the yakuza is first presented to the young man, he is repulsed by the possibility. But circumstances quickly force the young man into accepting a place in the world of organized crime. From here, A Family makes its first of two time jumps, as we are brought six years into the future. Now, Kenji is an established yakuza and has grown comfortable with his place in the world. This is the period in this story, like all such crime stories where we see the shiny veneer of the crime world. They have money, power, and respect. The only thing lacking for Kenji is love. This is where one of A FamilyI’s critical plot points comes in, as well as its most critical failure.

The love story between Kenji and Yuka, a young woman he meets at a club, is threadbare, to say the least. Kenji comes across as crass, unkind, and unconcerned with Yuka’s feelings or needs. But thanks to a couple of flawed attempts at sweetness the lady nonetheless seems to fall in love with him. Unfortunately for their new infatuation with each other, violence is about to break out between Kenji’s group and a rival organization. The resulting conflict will see Kenji land behind bars for 14 years.

The back half of A Family explores how the world has changed for Kenji, as well as the yakuza in general, during his time in prison. New laws have been passed that have greatly stripped the crime organizations of their power and prestige. While this is good, the social punishments for anyone trying to get out of the life of crime are beyond reasonable. For five years after leaving the yakuza, an individual cannot own a home, have credit, or even a job. These feel less like punishments and more like incentives to continue doing the bad things anyone in organized crime would want to get out of. Into this new world, Kenji steps out of prison. Needless to say, it isn’t a smooth transition.

It is this last transition that brings A Family its greatest moments but also bogs down the movie the most. The first half of Kenji’s story introduced numerous personalities and plots that have to be reintroduced and explained once the sizable time skip happens. This makes the middle portion of this movie a bit of a slough.

It is once the movie reestablishes all the pieces, however, that it delves into its strongest, most unique moments. Seeing the utter damned if you do, damned if you don’t fates that confront Kenji, one cannot help but feel truly sorry for the man. Even if he chooses to try to make something better of himself he risks becoming a social pariah for his troubles. Seeing the coldness with which the world treats those who have made mistakes is a stark reminder of how much of society’s laws are not about upholding justice, as they are simply about hurting those it can justify doing so too.

While the bevy of storylines surrounding the yakuza, as well as Kenji’s love life, make it so no one plot thread is ever given its due, the acting throughout the movie does all it can to get the audience to invest in the characters who inhabit those plot threads. Ayano does a great job creating a character who feels real and ultimately sympathetic, despite his many flaws.

When all is said and done, A Family delivers some impactful moments as it follows Kenji through the world of organized crime, and his struggle to deal with society’s approach to handling it. While it attempts more than its two-hour and fifteen-minute run time can handle, some genuinely impactful things can be found here, if one is willing to take the time to look.

A Family is streaming now on Netflix.

A Family
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

When all is said and done, A Family delivers some impactful moments as it follows Kenji through the world of organized crime, and his struggle to deal with society’s approach to handling it. While it attempts more than its two-hour and fifteen-minute run time can handle, some genuinely impactful things can be found here, if one is willing to take the time to look.