Happy Hour. 2015. Japan. Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi. in Japanese; English subtitles. 317 min.
Four thirtysomething female friends in the misty seaside city of Kobe navigate the unsteady currents of their work, domestic, and romantic lives. They seek solace in one another’s company, but a sudden revelation creates a rift, and rouses each woman to take stock. Ryusûke Hamaguchi’s wise, precisely observed, compulsively watchable drama of friendship and midlife awakening runs over five hours, yet the leisurely duration is not an indulgence but a careful strategy—to show what other films leave out, to create a space for everyday moments that is nonetheless charged with possibility, and to yield an emotional density rarely available to a feature-length movie. Developed through workshops with a cast of mostly newcomers (the extraordinary lead quartet shared the Best Actress award at the Locarno Film Festival), and filled with absorbing sequences that flow almost in real time, Happy Hour has a novelistic depth and texture. But it’s also the kind of immersive, intensely moving experience that remains unique to cinema.