A Film a Week - Fuzjko Hemming: A Pianist of Silence & Solitude / Fujiko Hemming no jikan

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

Ingrid Fuzjko Hemming is a world-class classical pianist with the life so interesting that it is quite strange that she was not the subject of a movie, documentary or fiction, so far. It is now corrected with Soichiro Komatsu’s filmmaking debut, the documentary called “Fuzjko Hemming: A Pianist of Silence & Solitude”. It was screened at the online edition of Toronto Japanese Film Festival.

Fuzjko’s extraordinary story starts with her origins: her father was a Swedish-Russian architect that studied at Bauhaus in Berlin, while her mother was a German-educated classical pianist and a piano teacher. Fuzjko was born in pre-war Berlin, but she grew up in Tokyo in the war- and early post-war time under the strict supervision of her mother who wanted her to specialize in teaching, even though she was considered to be a child prodigy. Fuzjko faced different challenges over the course of her life: her parents’ separation and divorce, the pressure of being a Eurasian child in Japan during the turbulent times, poverty during her student years in Berlin, and finally the loss of hearing due to a high temperature at the concert. Thanks to the doctors’ intervention, some of it was restored, but never completely.

Despite all the hardships, she never gave up her dream to be a concert pianist, and now, in her 80s, she lives a glamorous globe-trotting and touring life, collecting the real estate at the places that mean something to her (Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles, Tokyo and Kyoto), the books, the different artwork and the pianos she restored. Despite having her friends all over the world, she feels the loneliness quite often and is quite frank about it.

Komatsu follows his subject for a long period of time that includes the international tours and the time she spends at her various homes. The scenes from her daily routines, whether they are home- or work-based, are intercut with her memories and her live performances. In the director’s effort to tell the complete story of his protagonist, the end result seems a bit stretched and unfocused, somewhere in between the territory of a classical portrait documentary and a musical one.

On her part, Fuzjko is quite a character, visually, psychologically and otherwise, which is more than enough to draw the attention on herself, and she has a lot of stories from her long and fruitful life. And Komatsu tries to employ different devices in order to make the film both informative and relatable. Some of them serve the purpose, like Fuzjko’s illustrated diary from her teen years, that provides the framework for her childhood memories, and the mix between the “proper” and the amateur footage is quite smooth thanks to the editing. But the fact is that Komatsu could have gone easier with the textual info-cards and keep only the necessary ones, while discarding the redundant and those that go nowhere.

Although far from perfect, “Fuzjko Hemming: A Pianist of Silence & Solitude” is a decent, relaxing watch. The protagonist herself and her music provide enough of the reason for it.

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