The movie revolves around Kanao (Lily Franky...that's a dude) and Shoko (Tae Kimura), a 30-something couple and the changes they undergo in roughly a decade. It starts of with a humorous discussion about fidelity at a massage parlor (no, not the dirty kind) where Shoko's getting a massage, and then goes onto show Kanao hitting on a few girls. Apparently this is commonplace but we are left here (and many other times throughout the movie) wondering about whether the infidelity of Kanao is for real or if he's just dancing on the edges, so to speak...the impression of the latter becomes stronger. Shoko tries to be the controlling one because Kanao doesn't know how to and doesn't care, and his attitude is also the cause of Shoko's parents continually telling her he's no good.
The couple eagerly awaits the birth of their first baby. Fast forward to one year later, where Kanao gets a job as a courtroom sketch artist and we learn that the baby dies. This sends Kanao on a downward spiral where she ends up going completely insane. She has an abortion the next year (it's implied that Kanao was not informed that she was pregnant) and then starts to lose it every time she sees children, finds out she will never be able to have children again (poetic justice for squelching the second baby's life?) and then checks herself into the loony bin. In the meantime, Kanao keeps on sketching away.
Hashiguchi isn't going to leave us in their despair, so of course Shoko recovers, mentally at least, by going to some Zen center and taking up painting and then painting all over the house. Music starts to signal she's back, and here is the movie's single moment of awkward overbearing cheeziness: she lifts up a cover of rice (or something else she's cooking) and happily basks in the smell. Hashiguchi did a good job of making us realize that she was taking pleasure in the little things once again, so this in-your-face clip was not necessary.
In perhaps an anti-climactic final scene, Shoko's Dad is in the hospital and Shoko and Kanao go to Nagoya to visit her mom, who's on the verge of cuckoo. (hmm, perhaps it runs in the family?) Her other sister and uncle are trying to get her to relinquish the deed to the house so they can sell it, but Kanao tells them that Shoko's Dad is fine and that shuts them up. Nothing of note happens after that.
Story-wise, this movie is slightly above lukewarm. It has a few clever turns and twists, and while being pleasantly predictable, is ultimately predictable. But what Hashiguchi really excelled at here is his ability to bring the characters to us. We could follow the progression of Shoko/Kanao (Kanao especially) and how their environment affected them. Shoko, controlling to the point of being neurotic, is overwhelmed with situations that she can't control and we see the degenerative effects of that on her life. We also see mostly the same situations affect Kanao (brilliantly acted by Lily) in a different way. While it seems like he initially has an laissez-faire attitude, he does care and we can slowly see the changes in his facial expression at the various courtroom scenes as the acts of the criminals become more and more heinous (despite the fact that the courtroom scenes are being played out humorously) and eventually evolves from the character that Shoko initally finds refreshing, if a bit frustrating, to the one that she needs to rely upon.
At just under two and a half hours, the movie could have stood being just a bit tighter, but it became boring to the checking the clock very few times. Rating: B-