Need a fake relative? Werner Herzog uncovers Japan's 'exploding' family rental business.

Kevin Polowy
·Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

Werner Herzog continues to prove to be one of world cinema’s greatest gifts, from his intimate yet wondrous documentaries (Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Into Inferno) to his narrative features (Rescue Dawn, Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans), to his occasional forays into acting (Season 1 of The Mandalorian) and unintentional PSAs. And there’s also the time he ate a shoe.

His latest film, Family Romance LLC, plays out in that middle ground between documentary and feature, employing non-actors to drive its naturalistic aesthetic. And like any Herzog joint, it captures a subject that is utterly fascinating: in this case Japan’s family rental business, in which patrons can hire paid performers to play their friends, family members, or even “fans.”

“It’s exploding,” Herzog told Yahoo Entertainment of the stand-in industry during a recent Zoom interview (watch above). The filmmaker says that when he first contacted Yuichi Ishi — the real-life head of the real-life business Family Romance who stars as a man conflicted when he develops paternal feelings for the girl whose mother has hired him to pose as a long-lost father — had “800 or 900 agents that he sent out. When I arrived a few months later, it was already 1,400. There are now about 2,000 of them.

 “Competing companies have sprung up. They are springing up here [in the United States] as well. It has to do with existential solitudes of aging populations. It has to do with existential solitude of young people who are too much on Facebook, and rely on friendships that are only virtual and not for real.”

On the set of 'Family Romance LLC' (MUBI)
On the set of 'Family Romance LLC' (MUBI)

Pop culture is catching on. In 2018, Conan O’Brien rented “a fake family” to laugh at his jokes while in Tokyo for a bit on his TBS late night talk show Conan.

“It’s coming big time at us,” Herzog says. “And this is why Family Romance all the sudden has this enormous actuality.”

Family Romance LLC taps into some similar themes as another Asia-set film about familial role-playing: Last year’s global sensation Parasite.

Herzog was among that movie’s early fans when he saw it at last August’s Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. He recounted a conversation he had with Parasite director Bong Joon-ho after a screening.

“He asked me what I thought and I said, ‘This film is big. This film is so big, it will go a long, long way.”

He was right. Parasite went on to become the first foreign-language film ever to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Family Romance LLC is now streaming on MUBI.

Watch the trailer:

--Video produced by Jon San

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