Happy Hour by Ryûsuke Hamaguchi (Japan, 2015) is described as a “fascinating anomaly”, a gently sprawling story centred around four friends. Here, Xia Cui offers a “me-view” of this 317 min epic, which is billed as a mix between French new wave director, Jacques Rivette’s, Out 1: Noli Me Tangere and Sex and the City.
Happy Hour next screens as a part of the Melbourne International Film Festival on 14 Aug 2016 at 11:00 am at Kino Cinemas.
Despite feeling unsure when booking the ticket, due to the film’s intimidating length, I was also intrigued. As a 30-something woman myself, I was curious about the stories about to be told about four women my own age.
The characters and context emerge gradually. At a picnic on the mountain, a weekend workshop, an overnight trip at the hot spring, the protagonists, four friends: Akari, Jun, Sakurako and Fumi – catch up when they can, just as you expect girlfriends their age with work or family commitments might do.
Things become interesting as the four friends attend a workshop. As the weirdly attractive workshop host, Ukai, guides the participants to sync with one another, to listen to each other’s guts, to have their forehead touched by another forehead, I couldn’t help but notice the room filling with gentle happiness. After the workshop, Jun says she feels happy while doing the little exercises, later revealing a secret to all at dinner that has been kept even from her friends. Akari reveals her own story, as does the 28-year-old awkward looking guy.
In what feels like real time, the stories unfold around the lives of the four women in the beautiful city of modern Kobe. And I become part of what was going on, a participant to the workshop, an eavesdropper of the dinner conversation, another audience member at the book reading, a fifth girlfriend myself… Time just quietly went by.
To me, Ryûsuke Hamaguchi’s Happy Hour is his patient pursuit of the eternal question that has bothered human beings since our very first start: what makes us connect?
Connection makes us happy, yet moments of genuine connection are rare, even with our loved ones, and ourselves.
The four friends, Akari, Jun, Sakurako, and Fumi, laugh like kids when sharing this connection playing Mahjong in Arima. Perhaps for that brief moment, they forget the frustration of not feeling connected to a husband, a son, a mother-in-law, a colleague, and at times with each other.
Even going through a life crisis, Jun smiles and her eyes sparkle when a young woman on the bus tells an embarrassing childhood story, and when Sakurako’s son waves goodbye at the harbor and yells “thank you”, discovering it was Jun who tricked his parents into becoming a couple. As transient as these moments are, they make Jun genuinely happy, without which she recoils, a lonely figure standing on a ship sailing to the unknown destination.
Jun walks away from her marriage because she can’t feel the connection to the husband she was yearning for, yet he feels the most connected to Jun at the divorce court when they battle to reduce their marriage to nothing in order to win the case. To regain that connection, Jun’s husband gives up all until he finds Jun and talks to her again.
The friends’ lives are intertwined and connected in complex ways. I see desperation, as well as courage, when Akari asks Ukai to help her. This desperate courage is seen again, when Fumi walks her long way back home, and Sakurako says to her husband, with a look in her eyes disproportionate to her unassuming figure, “I won’t leave, but I also won’t apologize”.
Ryûsuke must be a true romantic, believing the world would be a better place if we could only find that true connection, but how? “I won’t know if I’m not told”, says Fumi’s husband, but even if we were told, would we listen? Would we know?
Perhaps as a start, we can try something offered by the workshop attended by the four women: align our centerline to that of another person, then move in sync so as not to break that alignment, listen to each other’s gut, touch the foreheads and try sending some messages.
While doing so, think about what Ukai says: “don’t try to change yourself, just be what you are, feel the others, and work with them”. Or, perhaps, take the grandma’s advice, “just be easy going, because that’s the best”. Perhaps that one hour in the workshop is the Happy Hour itself.