Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi
Film shown with intermission
Best Actress, 2015 Locarno Film Festival
Official Selection, 2015 BFI London Film Festival
Four women take seasonal trips out of the city. The way the old friends calendar the vacations and the way they enjoy them without words indicate they’ve been doing it for years, and with each trip, it becomes less about camaraderie and more about escape. Sakurako deals with an adolescent son and a controlling husband, Akari is a divorcee barely tolerating an incompetent assistant, Fumi delicately balances work and her husband, and Jun is going through a divorce, the news of which sends ripples through the women’s friendship, threatening their trust in each other – and in their marriages.
Director Ryusuke Hamaguchi and his talented cast portray the negotiation, strengthening, and undoing of friendship as it is ground away by tribulation and time. With a monumental length that allows inexpressive characters to slowly reveal themselves naturally through tics, allegiances, and priorities, HAPPY HOUR triumphs as character study and as an exploration of the ethics of “being there” between friends. Playing out in uncommonly long scenes – in particular two seemingly real-time public presentations – HAPPY HOUR has a predilection for observation that is gently dramatic and surprisingly tense. Those two scenes in particular are magnificent tests of self-reflection for the characters, epic jousts of chicanery that are also brilliant allegories for friendship: a bond based on no rules, only a faith in need of constant renewal.
Between beautiful moments of tranquility and quiet moments of discontent, Hamaguchi presents an elaborately-conceived web of women and men seeking that faith in each other. The result is taxing but absolutely awe-inspiring, as sublime as the stamina of friendship itself. –Brian Hu