Happy Hour

Happy Hour ★★★★★

One could reasonably describe "Happy Hour" as simply being about the trials and tribulations of a quartet of thirty-something Japanese women, a circle of friends who all live in the city of Kobe. But that would be like summing up chadō as being about "drinking tea", or describing shodō as "nice writing": true as far as it goes, but needing miles before it goes far enough.

Hamaguchi reveals himself here to be a subtle master of shot construction, framing, and editing. This movie, and the characters in it, all have a chance to breathe--at 317 minutes' run time, not surprising--but the patience necessary to allow life to be breathed into these four women (Akari the acerbic nurse, Sakurako the housewife, Fumi the arts administrator, and Jun the unemployed woman seeking a divorce) as well as their spouses, co-workers, in-laws, children, etc is not just a matter of time, it's a matter of in-scene competence and dexterity.

This skillset is what unlocks each scene in the film, transforming them from simply a series of mundane vignettes--a picnic, a New Age fitness seminar, a dinner conversation, a drive to the train station, a walk around town, a book reading, and more--into something more profound as quiet intimacies are revealed, explored, and layered upon one another.

On the surface, "Happy Hour" could be seen as simply a collection of interrelated conversations between some or all of these friends, but there is a subtle unpredictable evolution to their lives and needs that allows for a slow-burning magnification of emotional power. To do this as well as Hamaguchi does it in this movie requires an uncommon degree of patience, timing, precision, and determination.

Truly exceptional.

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