Happy Hour (2015) — March 12, 2017
Would have been better to be able to see it all at once, in a theatre, but as it was, on my TV and spread out over five days, it’s pretty remarkable. All the performances are great, but I’ll go with Kikuchi Hazuki as Sakurako as my favorite.
Asako I & II (2018) — October 3, 2018
In keeping the same minute attention to the smallest details of human routine and interaction that so distinguished his intimate 2015 epic Happy Hour, but trapping them within the familiar confines of a romantic comedy, Hamaguchi Ryūsuke has created something remarkable, a genre film as alive to the possibilities and contradictions of the human psyche and its dealing with other souls as we’ve seen in some time. It’s certainly the best romantic film since Hong Sangsoo’s Yourself and Yours, with which it shares a certain surface similarity. But in every important respect it is sui generis, very much its own thing.
Asako and Baku meet-cute at an art gallery. It’s love at first sight, the two are wordlessly drawn together and stay that way for some time, in the pure romance of youth, impervious to the outside world and not only unafraid of death but turned on by its impossibility. Until, one day Baku disappears. Five years later, Asako meets cute again, this time with a young businessman named Ryôhei, who looks exactly like Baku and is played by the same actor (Higashide Masahiro, from Kurosawa Kiyoshi’s Before We Vanish). The bulk of the film tracks their relationship, growing from awkward avoidance to friendship to love with the rhythms of the everyday and in parallel to the romance between their respective best friends. The friends’ antagonistic first meeting over a performance of Chekov, is the best of the film's several digressions, with an unexpected natural disaster and an idyllic montage in a fishing village providing other highlights.
The inevitable conflict comes in the final third, as Baku returns. If Hamaguchi doesn’t resolve The Case of the Two Bakus (or rather, the Two Asakos, the first crazed with the freedom of youth, the second safe in the benign contentment of maturity) with as much bald-faced ingenuity as Hong did, he can be forgiven. The solution he does find is as emotionally confused and true as real-life. We are unlikely to see a more open and all-embracing film this year.
Drive My Car (2021) — November 2, 2021
Best movie of the 2020s so far? I don’t know, maybe. No movie has so emotionally overwhelmed me since Amanda at VIFF in 2019. I was gonna write about it, but I don’t know what else to say. . . .
The opening sequence with the woman in silhouette at night seemed like a reference to the key scene in the last major Murakami adaptation.
Love that the guy’s experimental theatrical technique is basically just the way they shot Spaghetti Westerns in the 60s.
On the basis of this and Millennium Mambo, clearly all movies should feature brief sojourns to snowy northern Japan.
I haven’t seen or read Uncle Vanya, but I have seen Vanya on 42nd Street. A fun thing to do is read the subtitles to this in your head in Wallace Shawn’s voice.