“Happy Hour” is a 2015 Japanese drama film directed by Ryūsuke Hamaguchi. Set in Kobe, it depicts the dramas of four women in their late thirties, who are at the crossroads of their lives, starring non-professional actors. 317 minutes.
The film is composed of the following three parts.
Part I (106 minutes)
The story revolves around four 37-year-old women living in Kobe, Hyōgo Prefecture.
Akari (Sachie Tanaka) is a divorced nurse working at a hospital.
Sakurako (Hazuki Kikuchi) is a homemaker living with her husband Yoshihiko (Yoshio Shin), her son in middle school Daiki (Tomo Kawamura), and her mother-in-law Mitsu (Shoko Fukunaga).
Fumi (Maiko Mihara) works as a curator at the art center “Porto”, and she lives with her husband Takuya (Hiroyuki Miura), who is an editor.
Jun (Rira Kawamura) is the wife of biophysicist Kohei (Yoshitaka Zahana), but she has started divorce proceedings to break up with him.
Akari, Sakurako, Fumi and Jun are close friends with each other, and they sometimes go traveling together.
Akari has stressful days, having trouble with her inexperienced junior colleague Yuzuki (Ayaka Shibutani). A man that she has got to know at the hospital approaches her, but she doesn’t feel like being in love.
Sakurako feels lonely about her family life with her husband who is busy with his work.
Fumi also feels anxiety about her married life, in which they just pretend to be a good couple on the surface.
Jun has hidden her divorce from her friends except Sakurako, who is her friend since they were middle school students.
Fumi sets up and produces events at the art center Porto with her junior colleague Kono (Yuichiro Ito).
Fumi invites her three friends to a workshop held at the art center Porto. In the workshop under the theme of “the center of gravity”, a dubious artist named Ukai (Shuhei Shibata) as an instructor gives the participants guidance on the practical of bodily communication.
Ukai’s acquaintances, Kazama (Hajime Sakasho), Hinako (Hiromi Demura) and Yoshie (Tsugumi Kugai) also participate in the workshop.
After the workshop, Kazama asks Sakurako to go to dinner, but Sakurako declines it.
At the drinking party after the workshop, Kazama says that he got a divorce because of his ex-wife’s infidelity. Akari hits it off with him because she also got a divorce because of her ex-husband’s infidelity.
Jun confesses that she cheated on her husband, losing her love for him, and she is undergoing divorce proceedings. Akari is annoyed with Jun for hiding it, and walks away from there.
Part II (96 minutes)
Jun has lived apart from her husband, and she is having a trial in the divorce court, working at a delicatessen.
Sakurako, Fumi and Akari attend Jun’s trial. Jun is fighting an uphill battle against her husband in court because they find no fault with him, and he doesn’t want to divorce her.
The four women go on a trip to Arima Onsen (hot spring resort) together. Fumi’s husband Takuya drives them to Arima because he is going to visit Arima to see novelist Kozue (Reina Shiihashi), who is staying there to write the first one of a series of short stories about onsen (hot springs).
Akari and Jun become friends again, and the four women have a good time in Arima, but they see Takuya and Kozue walking along a street, like a couple.
Jun takes the bus home alone. In the bus, Jun encounters and talks with a young female tourist named Yoko (Ayumu Tonoi), who took pictures of Jun and her friends in Arima.
Jun’s husband Kohei calls Akari, Sakurako and Fumi at a cafe, and he tells them that Jun has gone missing while being pregnant with his child.
Akari reprimands junior colleague Yuzuki severely for her mistake at the hospital. Then, she breaks her leg falling down the stairs.
Sakurako is told by her son Daiki that he impregnated his girlfriend. Her husband Yoshihiko makes her and her mother-in-law Mitsu go and apologize to the parents of the girlfriend instead of him because he is too busy at work to go.
Akari’s fellow doctor Kurita (Yasunobu Tanabe) drives Akari home. He has romantic feelings for Akari. At Akari’s home, he tries to hug her, but she rejects him.
Daiki encounters Jun in a ferry terminal in the Port of Kobe. He was going to run away with his girlfriend, but he gives up doing it because she didn’t come to the meeting place.
Daiki expresses his thanks to Jun because he has heard from his mother Sakurako that he was born thanks to Jun who brought Sakurako and Yoshihiko together. Jun goes traveling somewhere on a ferry.
Part III (115 minutes)
Takuya organizes a recital of Kozue’s short story titled “Yuge (Steam)” at Porto. Sakurako and Kohei attend the recital.
Ukai had been invited as a guest for the talk with Kozue, but he leaves the venue while Kozue is reciting her short story. Takuya asks Kohei to talk with Kozue after the recitation as a substitute for Ukai.
Akari comes to the venue of the recital, walking on crutches, and she finds Ukai smoking outside. She has been attracted to Ukai. She goes to a club with Ukai. One of the participants of the workshop, Hinako is working at a bar of the club. Akari finds that Hinako is Ukai’s sister.
Kozue finishes reciting her short story. Kohei gives his impressions of the short story, and talks with Kozue.
Takuya, Kozue, Kohei, Fumi and Sakurako attend the drinking party after the recital. At first, they talked about Kozue’s short story, but they get into an argument with each other after talking about Jun.
Kohei and Fumi leave the party. Sakurako also leaves, following Fumi. Takuya drives Kozue home. In the car, Kozue confesses her love to Takuya. Takuya spends the night with Kozue.
Fumi and Sakurako get on the last train. Sakurako finds Kazama at the station. Sakurako follows Kazama, and she spends the night with him.
The next morning, Sakurako tells to her husband Yoshihiko that she had sex with other man.
Fumi shares her intention to divorce with Takuya. After leaving home, Takuya is injured in a traffic accident while driving, and he is taken to the hospital where Akari works.
The production of the film “Happy Hour” was triggered by “Improvisation Acting Workshop in Kobe”, a civic participation program held by Hamaguchi at KIITO Design and Creative Center Kobe in 2013.
The cast of the film is composed of the participants of the workshop. Most of the cast, including the four leading actresses, are non-professional actors without acting experience.
In the film, Hamaguchi excluded histrionic acting by use of the non-professional actors, like Robert Bresson’s “cinématographe”.
He spent a long time shooting each scene containing a lot of dialogues, such as Ukai’s workshop, drinking parties, and Kozue’s recital, without omitting the lapse of time.
As a result of these things, “Happy Hour” became a peculiar film halfway between drama film and documentary.
The audience shares the same time with the characters, and they experience a you-are-there feeling.
It is an amazing film that keeps mesmerizing the audience without boring them during the long running time of over five hours.
Hamaguchi referred to “Husbands” (1970) directed by John Cassavetes, which depicted the wandering minds of three men who lost their close friend, as the prototype of the story of the film.
The four leading actresses of the film won the Best Actress Award in the 68th Locarno International Film Festival.