On paper, Hakota Yuko’s debut feature, Blue Hour, has much promise. The film was inspired, in some measure or another, by Isao Takahata Studio Ghibli anime feature Only Yesterday, and this live action film’s similarities to that 1991 masterwork are clear. Both films tell stories about disaffected adult women leaving big cities in Japan for the countryside, and reconnecting with their youthful spirits — while also feeling freed by the comparative simplicity and directness of country life. A slight difference arrises in that, in Blue Hour, the protagonist, Sunada (Kaho), returns to her hometown to visit her ailing grandmother — whereas the protagonist in Only Yesterday went somewhere that was new to her. As Blue Hour progresses, other various, relatively interesting narrative threads are quickly established: Sunada is married to an inattentive partner, who doesn’t notice she is engaged in an affair with a co-worker, and at the same time her job is demanding and does not facilitate maintaining herself and her relationships, plus her family is decidedly weird. But none of these narratives arrive at a satisfying resolution — we don’t even see Sunada return to the city.
The titular “blue hour” — a time just before dawn, when Sunada would go out and play — is referenced haphazardly, on perhaps three occasions, and never for any particular conceptual or narrative purpose. Yuko never elucidates just why this particular time of day offers Sunada solace from her considerable personal, familial, and work-related problems. Blue Hour also contains several quite different, unannounced shifts pertaining to its visual language, and its images texture, which are roundly baffling and seem chosen less for any value that they add to the story and more as a means to shock the viewer to attention, in the likely event that their interest is waning. All told, Blue Hour is an unfocused and down-right erratic riff on a great work that is all gestures and no pay off. If you’re interested because of Only Yesterday, miss this and watch that again instead.
Published as part of Japan Cuts 2019 | Dispatch 2.