Modern Family Romance, LLC

I've been kvetching for a while that Werner Herzog's 2019 drama Family Romance, LLC has been overlooked on home video.  But in 2022, it finally happened.  No blu-ray, but it's at least out on DVD now.  It's actually come out in a couple regions, starting with Italy.  But as it's a Japanese-language film, none of them have been English-friendly until the UK-based Modern Films finally coughed up a disc with English subtitles.  This is also my first time covering a Modern Films release, so welcome to the family, guys.
The premise is certainly unique: Family Romance is a company that hires out actors to families in need of a substitute.  Father is too soused to show up at his daughter's wedding?  That would be embarrassing, so the family hires an actor to pretend to be the father.  Apparently this is a real phenomenon (more on that in a bit), but naturally Herzog immediately stumbles on an edgier application for this service.  A woman hires the head of the company to play the father of a 12 year-old girl whose father abandoned them when she was a baby.  Naturally, things get complicated pretty quickly, because the daughter isn't in on the ruse, and ethical issues start flying right and left.
To make matters even more interesting, this film stars Ishii Yuichi as himself.  The real Ishii runs and "acts" for his actual company, Family Romance, just like the character he plays.  And indeed, most if not all of the actors in this film are Family Romance employees.  Here's a Business Insider profile on him from 2017, where he even plays, just like in this film, the father to a young girl who doesn't know he's an actor. Except, in the intervening years, there have been some questions about the veracity of how real all of this is.  Was Herzog duped by Yuichi, or is he playing into the legend?  Does it even really matter?  After all, Family Romance, LLC is a scripted drama presenting itself as a work of fiction, not a documentary.  And none of the character exploration or even overt messages really hinge on this stuff being for real outside the confines of the story.  But I do wonder if the popular press story getting at least partially debunked has anything to do with the enthusiasm dropping out of this film's home video release.  It seemed to be getting a bunch of festival buzz and then nothing until it quietly drizzled out onto DVD.
Herzog plays with other documentary aspects as well.  There's a scene where, completely disconnected from the plot, Ishii visits a robot hotel and interviews the owner, ostensibly to see if robots could be useful for his business.  Like Family Romance, the hotel is a real thing, and I'm not completely certain it isn't an authentic interview inserted into the film... though I'm fairly certain that guy is an actor, too.  But we're definitely playing with fiction and reality in weird ways, as Herzog is wont to do.  Family films in one authentic location after another, with Herzog simply following them as a 1-man camera crew, as they're surrounded by non-actors.  He even brags in an interview on this disc that some critics mistook this film for a doc, although I suspect that was probably just people reporting on the film before they'd seen it.
At the end of the day, what's actually real in either sense isn't super important, though it can add extra novel little charges through the proceedings.  What counts is Herzog finding another string of fascinating imagery and raising interesting thoughts.  What counts is that the actors are really good (Ishii has great chemistry with the rest of the cast, especially the girl; and if the real Family Romance ever shutters, I think he has a good potential future in other films), and the story is genuinely affecting.  Even if this sort of thing isn't really taking place anywhere in the world, it works as a fascinatingly subtle tale of science fiction.  However much real truth is or isn't on camera, Herzog has again uncovered an ecstatic truth.
2022 Modern Films DVD.
The film is presented in 1.78:1, which is presumably the correct aspect ratio.  It did occur to me that possibly the reason this film is DVD-only is that it was shot on a handheld camcorder, so there'd be no picture quality benefit to releasing it in HD.  But I looked it up, and Family was shot on a Canon XF400, which is a 4k camera, so theoretically, this could be on UHD.  Maybe Herzog edited it in a lower resolution, who knows?  It doesn't look like the image quality would be particularly impressive in any format, but I compared it to the 1080p trailer, and there was a little ground gained.
2022 Modern Films DVD; Youtube trailer bottom.
So, I'm not going to get into a deep comparison with the trailer, because it's just a Youtube rip, and there's no reason to assume it's the best the film would look on a proper blu-ray.  But you can see the differences, especially in the lines of his tie and collar.  And it does go some way towards confirming the DVD's framing and aspect ratio.

Modern presents the film in Dolby Digital 5.1 with optional subtitles.
As far as special features, I was actually surprised to see that yes, we do get something.  There's basically one thing, but it's a worthwhile one: a 50 minute interview hosted by Asif Kapadia (the guy who directed the Amy Winehouse documentary).  It's a little disappointing that Asif asks him a lot of generic questions like "who were the filmmakers you looked up to when you were making movies" and "did you ever make a musical" (it's kinda the interviewer's job to know that going in, isn't it?) rather than anything thoughtful or interesting about this movie, so a lot of it winds up being a general career overview.  But Herzog manages to bring it back to Family Romance, LLC enough to impart some good insight, anyway.  There's no trailer per se, but they basically play the film's trailer as the intro for the interview, so we get it.  Modern's release also comes in a slipcover.

I'd still love to double-dip on this title with a proper Blu-ray edition one day.  But for now, at least Modern have given us something pretty good.

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