After Sawa (Makiko Watanabe) learns that her estranged ex-husband is on his death bed, she sends her two daughters (Matsubara Nanoka, Yanagi Erisa) on a trip to take a photo of his face

Funeral farce arrives DOA.

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: The funereal customs of a foreign country can be perplexing phenomenon. Those unfamiliar with the idiosyncrasies of Japanese cremations and the forced business deals that can occur at family funeral gatherings will have enough to contend when they watch Capturing Dad. However, this slight, poorly constructed, extended anecdote of a film has additional liabilities that will compound the problems of audiences who are hoping for either insight or amusement about the Japanese grief process.

little of what occurs on the screen is as faintly amusing as is intended

The set up is that Sawa (frequently cast indie actress, Watanabe Makiko) gets word from her former brother-in-law that her long absent, once philandering ex-husband is dying of cancer. Disinclined to see him again, she instead sends the two daughters they conceived together, 17-year-old Koharu (Matsubara Nanoka) and 20 year-old Hazuki (Yanagi Erisa), with the instruction that they should take a photograph of their father’s face just as he snuffs it, so that she’ll have something to laugh about in years to come.

This is a highly unlikely scenario. More plausible, given the traditions of obligation in Japan, is that the daughters indeed catch a train to the remote town where the father resides. En route, the sisters receive word that their father has actually died and so they arrive mid-funeral in colourfully inappropriate clothing. It’s supposed to be visual joke, but with scant attention to plot detail, the script conveniently forgets that the girls and their spiteful mother already knew the sisters were walking into a solemn situation.

Death and laughter can be common bedfellows in sophisticated and professional Japanese films like Itami Juzo’s The Funeral and Makino Masahito’s Wakeful Night and even the beginning of Sabu’s Bunny Drop can attest. In contrast, director Nakano Ryota’s clumsy clutching for obvious laughs feel overly desperate. True, the gleefully rinky dinky soundtrack deliberately contradicts the plain and occasionally sombre images. But even as the score strains for irony, it eventually gives way to the unavoidable reality that little of what occurs on the screen is as faintly amusing as is intended. It’s not exactly an emotional powerhouse either.

Nor is the story structured very well. An early scene – which feels divorced from the rest of the film – clumsily foreshadows the film’s most powerful moment but in doing so undercuts it an hour in advance. This film also specialises in redundant dialogue by which characters tell each other information that they clearly already know.

It’s 'only’ a kids/teen film coasting on the charm of its largely inexperienced cast, but the careless air and emotional inconsistency of Capturing Dad makes it a poor example. Don’t children deserve good storytelling and accurate characterisations? There’s more to telling a story than padding an anecdote. Worse still, some of the character details seem to have more to do with male writer/director Nakano’s fantasy of Japanese womanhood (though he’s not the first Japanese male guilty of that) and family than actuality. Their sister’s behaviour is oversimplified, awkwardly realised and at times most improbable. Perhaps the girls’ younger half-brother, Chihiro (Kobayashi Kaito), is the most realistic character portrayed, because he accurately reflects Nakano’s level of emotional connection and understanding of women? It’d explain a few things.