Ryusuke Hamaguchi is a Japanese director who has made several critically acclaimed award-winning films, the most successful of which is of course Drive My Car, nominated for this year’s Academy Awards viz. Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Having reviewed Drive My Car already, we wanted to analyse three other features, together with a short, that defined the work of Ryusuke Hamaguchi.
Happy Hour (2015)
This is where Hamaguchi really caught the eye of film festivals and critics worldwide. After three documentaries, Happy Hour represented Hamaguchi’s first attempt at fiction and he approached the task with a striking difference – a movie that stretches over five (!) hours.
Happy Hours follows the lives and loves of four middle-class women in their thirties who are friends and who live in Kobe. When one reveals she is undergoing divorce proceedings, the others begin to rethink their relationships. What stands out in this marathon is how well the characters and dialogue are written, which would become a hallmark of Hamaguchi’s subsequent films. However, the extremely long runtime does result in strange narrative choices which lets down the last hour and a half.
Heaven is Still Far Away (2016)
A short film that is deeply poignant and yet cleverly made, concerns Yuzo, a mosaic engineer for porn videos, who lives under the same roof as Mitsuki, a high school student with whom he leads a peculiar life. One day, Yuzo receives a phone call from Mitsuki’s sister. Without spoiling the twist in the film, Yamaguchi takes a fantastical premise and imbues a down-to-earth aspect that is at once heartfelt and other-worldly. One of Hamaguchi’s best works.
Asako I & II (2018)
Thankfully, Asako I & II is under 2 hours but maybe equally difficult to appreciate due to the main character’s unlikable choices in the story. The film is simply about a woman who falls in love with two men who look the same but act completely differently. Nothing too dramatic happens for most of the film – with dialogue once more a standout – but the final act deviates so wildly from what went before that it can be tough for audiences to engage. Asako I & II was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2018 Cannes Film Festival.
Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy (2021)
This anthology consists of three short films that focus on inter-personal relationships and dialogue that morphs in the course of delivery, and perhaps emphasises Hamaguchi’s strength as a short form film-maker. Probably our favourite Hamaguchi work thus far – the dialogue is simply top notch. Highly recommended.
… still there’s more …