On the surface, Ryuichi looks like an ordinary, 44-year-old Japanese family man. He has a wife and two sons, and a good job in the customer service department at a toy factory. Yet unbenownst to most — including his own family — he moonlights running his own business providing family members, friends, and even spouses for hire.
Ryuichi and his employees are professional stand-ins, part of a growing service industry in Japan that rents out fake spouses, best men, relatives, friends, colleagues, boyfriends and girlfriends, all to spare their clients embarassment at social functions such as weddings, funerals, or other family gatherings.
Ryuichi launched his company four years ago, after abandoning plans to become a counselor. Today he employs 32 stand-ins of various ages and both sexes across Japan, with the skills and personality to temporarily but convincingly adopt new identities. He runs the company from the kitchen in his house without his family's knowledge. By cell phone and email, Ryuchi fields the requests and makes appointments for himself and the other stand-ins.
The artifice of the family-for-rent business suits Ryuichi, who feels sometimes as if he doesn't fit in his own life. "No one has ever really understood me," he says. In his job he can finally be the perfect husband and father he doesn't know how to be at home. But in the long run, can Ryuichi find fulfillment helping other people or will he realize that he can be happy in his own life?
Ryuichi is not alone in feeling the strain of living up to the expectations and standards of Japanese society, which is instilled in childhood. The culture's aversion to complaint and the airing of personal or professional problems makes some feel stuck in lives that feel inauthentic. By leading a secret life based artifice as a means of escape, Ryuichi may be digging himself in even deeper.
- Kaspar Astrup SchröderDirector
- Mette HeideProducer