Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
ND/NF ’16: Happy Hour
complain with some justification, there are not enough quality film roles for women
in their thirties. Ryûsuke Hamaguchi will darn near solve the problem
single-handedly with his three hundred seventeen-minute interpersonal character
drama, showcasing four remarkable lead actresses and a host of distinctive
supporting players. It is about friendship. It is about trust. It is about five
hours, plus. Granted, that is a serious time investment, but the emotional
realism never drags in Hamaguchi’s Happy
which screens during this year’s New Directors/New Films.
Fumi, Sakurako, and Jun all look happy, especially when sharing each other
company on picnics or similar outings. Yet, they are dealing with bitter
disappointments in their personal lives. Akari the super-confident RN is a
divorcee, but the other three appear to be satisfactorily married. However, it
is soon revealed Jun has been engaged in a protracted legal battle to divorce
her cold fish husband Kohei. Her decision to confide only in her childhood
friend Sakurako temporarily causes dissension within the group, but they
eventually rally behind Jun, even showing their support in court.
turns out they might identify with Jun’s problems only too well. Both Fumi and
Sakurako have become increasingly frustrated with their own spouses. Marriages
and friendships will be put to the test when Ukai, a hipster self-help
guru-gadfly performance artist enters their world. He lectures on balance and “finding
one’s center,” but he is clearly a destabilizing influence.
hours and change might sound mighty long, but it gives Hamaguchi and
screenwriter Hatano Koubou time to fully develop three extended centerpiece sequences
that will dramatically change the characters’ trajectories. Through Ukai’s
touchy-feely workshop, an overnight trip to the hot springs of Arima, and a
public reading-Q&A featuring the young precocious writer Fumi’s editor
husband is so suspiciously devoted to, we see the four women interact with each
other in telling ways and witness their epiphanies.
and his closely collaborating cast (alumni recruited from his own workshops
presented in a Kobe arts collective) play it as straight as you ever can in
life. For instance, there is a fair amount of Marin County Serial-style humor during Ukai’s workshop, but the quartet also get
something out of their shared experience.
Tanaka, Hazuki Kikuchi, Maiko Mihara, and Rira Kawamura are all terrific as
Akari, Sakurako, Fumi, and Jun, respectively. It is easy to see why they shared
the best actress award at Locarno. They develop some richly complicated chemistry
together, but they have several equally intriguing associations with supporting
characters, such as Sakurako’s relationship with her mother-in-law, Akari’s
mentorship-by-fire of a timid trainee nurse, and Jun’s auntie affection for Jun’s
teen son, which truly deepen and enhance the film.
Hamaguchi and company capture the epicness of
real life, while maintaining a grounded perspective. Yoshio Kitagawa’s cinematography
favors naturalness over dazzle, but the four leads still absolutely light up
the screen, while Umitaro Abe’s lovely chamber score gives it all a classy
sheen. Yes, it is over five hours, but they are quality hours. Those who do not
take the plunge will lose their standing to complain about women’s roles in cinema
until the next five-hour film with four well developed leading parts for mature
adult women comes around. Highly recommended for patrons of relationship dramas
and Japanese cinema, Happy Hour screens
in its entirety this Saturday (3/26) at MoMA and Sunday (3/27) at the Walter
Reade, as part of ND/NF 2016.
Labels: Japanese Cinema, ND/NF '16