Happy Hour

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Jonathan Richards

Is there a trace of irony in this ti­tle? Over­all, things are not ter­ri­bly happy (but some­times quite funny) in this ex­tended look into the lives of four Ja­panese women, and the hour ex­tends to five, with an­other 17 min­utes thrown in for good mea­sure. It’s re­ally more of a minis­eries than a movie, but it takes splendid ad­van­tage of its elon­gated form to al­low scenes to play out in a leisurely, real-time fash­ion that in a more con­ven­tional movie would be chopped off at the el­bow.

The movie in­tro­duces its quar­tet of pro­tag­o­nists on a hol­i­day out­ing to­gether, shar­ing the lunches they have brought and watch­ing the rain. They’re all the same age, thirty-seven. The central fig­ure of the group is Jun (Rira Kawa­mura), mar­ried (un­hap­pily, we soon learn) to a bi­ol­o­gist. She’s been friends since mid­dle school with Saku­rako (Hazuki Kikuchi), who lives with her hus­band, a har­ried bu­reau­crat, along with his mother and their teenage son. The other two, brought to­gether by Jun, are Fumi (Maiko Mi­hara), who runs arts pro­grams, and Akari (Sachie Tanaka), a hos­pi­tal nurse. Akari is the only sin­gle one of the group, and she’s a tough, com­mit­ted pro­fes­sional in a job where she’s well aware that a slip-up can cost lives.

What dis­tin­guishes this weav­ing to­gether of tales, de­vel­oped by wri­ter­di­rec­tor Ryû­suke Ha­m­aguchi in a se­ries of im­pro­vi­sa­tional work­shops, is the time it takes. The ap­proach is epit­o­mized in a self-ex­plo­ration ses­sion given by a New Age guru, in which a small group of participants — pulled to­gether by Fumi and in­clud­ing her three friends — are en­cour­aged to “find your cen­ter” through ex­er­cises in trust and in­ti­macy. The work­shop plays out in its en­tirety, and once you ac­cept that fact, the ef­fect is lib­er­at­ing and mes­mer­iz­ing.

At their open­ing get-to­gether, the four make plans for a spa va­ca­tion in a few months, which, deep into the movie, comes to pass as an­other long set piece, dur­ing which they have fun but also ex­am­ine the lives in which they find them­selves at a vague mid­point. The first to up­set the ap­ple­cart is Jun, who an­nounces that she’s hav­ing an af­fair and is go­ing to di­vorce her hus­band. But all four find them­selves in sit­u­a­tions that are fluid, or un­cer­tain. Ground that seemed solid sud­denly shifts, cir­cum­stances that have been bear­able be­gin to chafe. Lives can change in a mo­ment, even if that mo­ment takes a while to de­velop.

That di­vorce-court case is an­other se­quence that plays out longer than we’re used to spend­ing on a movie scene, and like the oth­ers, is worth ev­ery minute. But it’s not just the big mo­ments that take their time. Ev­ery­thing here is on its own clock, and it is that very pa­tience and cin­e­matic con­fi­dence that gives Happy Hour its magic.

The group: clock­wise, from left: Sachie Tanaka, Maiko Mi­hara, Hazuki Kikuchi, and Rira Kawa­mura

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