I wanted to come out of Happy Hour prepared to talk about something other than its runtime. But at nearly five-and-a-half hours, it’s hard not to center your takeaway around its length. As someone with an attention deficit disorder, films with runtime of more than two hours are always going to be a challenge for me. Breaking them up into multiple viewing sessions makes it hard for me to stay on track. It’s just never going to be easy for me to approach films at this time-scale.
With that being said, I found Happy Hour a pleasant sit. Its pacing is so languid and relaxed that it’s easy to lose yourself in it. It hardly feels like so much time has passed when scenes go on for upwards of 30 minutes. Films of this length sometimes can’t help feeling episodic. Some are deliberately structured that way to maintain a pace that’s easy to follow. Happy Hour is structured like a film of more than half its runtime, just with scenes that last much longer than they otherwise would. The film’s many dinner table conversations play out in real time, with a flow so natural and friendly you hardly notice how much time has elapsed. The film is absorbing in its simplicity, never alienating in its scope. In other words, despite how long Happy Hour is, it’s an easy film to watch.
I found it interesting how director Ryusuke Hamaguchi refuses to approach the film with the formal matter-of-fact-ness one might expect from such a lengthy depiction of rather down-to-earth subject matter. It’s not stylistically bare-bones the way recent Clint Eastwood films ar, but it’s far from a hyper-stylized melodrama either. Hamaguchi is an unadorning but engaged artist, finding a happy medium between basic naturalism and a full display of his inventive filmmaking skill. I think about the moment when he shoots two men standing opposite each other from behind the back of the first man, whose body obscures the second. Then he cuts to what can only be the first man’s POV, a six-inch shift forward for the camera that makes the first man disappear entirely, radically changing the image with only the slightest movement. Then again, the film is so linear in its editing that I almost gasped when the first instance of intercutting occurred nearly four hours in. The film’s simplicity and understated tone never belies Hamaguchi’s sharpness as a film artist.
I watched Happy Hour on a plane ride home from vacation, completely free of distraction. Had I watched it anywhere else, I would have undoubtedly found it harder to pay attention to. It’s just the way my brain works (or doesn’t work) and I wish it wasn’t. I was so thrilled that I had the experience with Happy Hour that I did, and that I was able to give it its proper due. Hamaguchi’s new film Asako I & II is one I’m really excited to see this year. Maybe its runtime is a bit more manageable.