Ryuichi is an entrepreneur with an unusual business: He rents himself and his staff out to play the role of friends and family for people who are in need of some for an event. A groom might want fake parents at his wedding so he won’t have to admit to his bride that his mom and dad are dead. A divorcée may find it helpful to have a new husband around at child-support negotiations with her ex. Ryuichi’s odd job might have been the basis for a quirky documentary about an unusual calling; but Rent a Family Inc. winds up a thoroughly depressing look at the emotional repression the film posits is rampant in Japanese culture.
Danish director Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s documentary (so gorgeously shot that one suspects some setups may be slightly staged for the camera’s benefit) is summed up in a moment on a reality TV show that Ryuichi’s family watches one night, in which a contestant talks about how people should be more honest with one another. Judging from his face, the irony is not lost on Ryuichi, who has never told his family what he does for a living, fearful of their judgement. Worse, he can’t even tell his wife—with whom he has a barely cordial relationship—that they’re on the brink of financial collapse. All the while, he spends his days helping others lie to their loved ones because they’re similarly scared the truth will be too embarrassing.