Akio (Kentaro Sakaguchi) is a junior advertising executive who holds an obsession for the online videogame Final Fantasy XIV. When his father Akira (Kotaro Yoshida) – an aloof figure with whom Akio has always struggled to relate – suddenly ups and quits his senior management job, Akio is desperate to find out why. When he fails to connect in real life, he hits on an inspired new method: get his father hooked on Final Fantasy and befriend him inside the game!
Brave Father Online is one feature-length advertisement for Japanese massively-multiplayer online role-playing game Final Fantasy XIV. Akio socialises with his friends inside the game, he tries to understand his father via the game, and even finds romance in part through playing the game. The game is so prominent to the story that scenes set inside its fantasy world have their own director (Kiyoshi Yamamoto directs the virtual elements while Teruo Noguchi handles the live action scenes). One cannot seriously discuss Brave Father Online without addressing this rather obvious ‘elephant-in-the-room’. The game is demonstrated to be all things to all people, and loved by every character who tries it – young and old, men and women.
It’s all rather reminiscent of Todd Holland’s The Wizard, an American family drama from 1989 in which the entire narrative is contorted around playing Nintendo’s new videogame Super Mario Bros 3. That too was a dramatic affair involving a disconnected family. While The Wizard‘s cult popularity is acknowledged, the main difference between the two films is that Brave Father Online is actually pretty good.
There is proper character work undertaken here, coupled with a genuinely light and amiable tone. Akio and Akira are both likeable people, and flashbacks to Akio’s childhood manage to show a wonderfully warm side to his father. Significantly while The Wizard was about travelling to Los Angeles to play a videogames tournament, Brave Father Online is about a father and son connecting over an emotional link to their past. There is depth here, and some warm humour infused throughout. Kentaro Sakaguchi is a pleasant and relatable lead, but it is Kotaro Yoshida who emerges as the film’s best human asset. In his hands, the deadpan and gruff Akira becomes a minor masterpiece in subtlety. His small moments of joy and disappointment become deftly transformed into comic gold. He creates warmth where a lesser actor might have felt rote and wooden.
The film also overcomes the potential risk of making the in-game sequences feel dull or boring. Created using the actual game’s graphics engine, they are surprisingly engaging to watch add a whole new layer of appeal to the film. It is an uncharacteristically anodyne picture of an online game, without any of the trolling or abuse that can occur from time to time in real MMORPGs, but given the story the film can be forgiven for making things appear something idyllic; after all, at the end of the day there is a videogame to sell.
This is the second adaptation of a real-life story in which a father and son connected via Final Fantasy XIV. An earlier eight-part television series featured the same directors with a different cast. Taken on its own merits, without having seen the earlier version, this is a surprisingly warm and effective melodrama spun from a crassly commercial premise. It is not simply ‘better than expected’ either; boasting heart, laughs, and appealing performances, Brave Father Online is a distinct and hugely enjoyable comedy-drama.
Brave Father Online is playing at Australia’s 2019 Japanese Film Festival. Click here for local sessions and more information.