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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's 5-hour opus HAPPY HOUR

Ryusuke Hamaguchi's wonderful HAPPY HOUR, like the Iwai Shunji retrospective, was also part of the Japan Now section in the Tokyo International Film Festival.

I need to give props to Japan Now. Ever since the festival started this section last year, with Ando-sensei (yup, my former university professor Kohei Ando-sensei1!!) serving as programming advisor, the section has become one of the main attractions of the festival. The screening of noteworthy (of commercial or critical merit) Japanese films of the past year, complete with Q and A sessions moderated by Ando-sensei, had been great!

I remember having dinner with Ando-sensei in August right after he had served as jury member of the Guanajuato International Film Festival (where he saw Happy Hour for the very first time and awarded it the Best International Feature Narrative award) and we discussed about the trickiness of trying to program this film at the Tokyo International Film Festival due to its length (5 hours!!!) I said to Ando-sensei that if the film would ever show in the festival, I will definitely go and see it.

I'm very glad Ando-sensei managed to program the film, and made the experience even richer by making it an all-nighter screening!

I wrote this a few hours after the screening:

From 1030pm last night to 5am this morning, I was at Ryusuke Hamaguchi's HAPPY HOUR screening. A 5 hour 17 minute long magnum opus which started as a story of four women in their late 30s before gradually expanding into an observation on contemporary Japan, the impossibility of romance, the fleeting nature of friendship, the role of art, and many others.

I have wanted to see this film since last year, and it was only earlier this year I found out its cinematographer was Kitagawa Yoshio, who also shot my KINGYO back in 2009 :D

I was expecting something like the films of Lav Diaz, but I'm reminded of Edward Yang's YI YI instead. The four female leads (much deservingly) won the best actress award at Locarno Film Festival last year (film also received a special mention for Best Screenplay), to think that they have never acted on-screen before this film and had only just attended the acting workshops conducted by the director makes their achievements even more mindblowing. The complexity and emotional nakedness of their performances are a sight to behold, and a privilege to enjoy.

The acting performances are naturalistic and multilayered, apparently the cast members were very much involved in the developing of the screenplay, giving creative input and pointing out things that their characters might or might not say. Which is great, it's always great to have cast members who can participate in an extensive creative process with the filmmaker, since filmmaking is such a collaborative process.

And credit also has to be given to the rest of the cast. The beauty of this film is that you gradually learn not just the main characters but also those around them a little more, constantly changing your initial opinion about them. You would have thought Kohei the estranged scientist husband of Jun is a chilly bastard incapable of emotions, yet he shows surprising depths in later scenes of the film. Instead of being likeable or unlikeable, they are just who they are. It's life based on how it is perceived.

Before the screening there was a Skype session between Ando-sensei and Director Hamaguchi (who's based in Boston), actress Tanaka Sachie and cowriter/producer Nohara Tadashi.