4.0 out of 5 stars Love hurts. And then you suffer
Sometimes you just fall in love with someone, even though you know they are no good. Against the advice of friends and family, and even common sense, you just tumble head-over-heels for the biggest jerk in the room. You know that the smartest move would be to leave, but some how…you just can’t help it.
“Happily Ever After” (Japanese title “Jigyaku no Uta” or “Song of the Masochist”) is a rather extreme example of this kind of love. Sachie (played by the adorable Nakatani Miki from Train Man) is the sweetest, most patient girl you will ever meet. She is the kind of girl you can take home to mother, who can cook a meal and clean a house and warm a bed with a smile and a song. Her man, Isao (played by the amazing Abe Hiroshi, who should be a familiar face to any Japanese film fan) is just a lout. He is mean to Sachie, doesn’t work and takes her money, and flips over the table every time she sets down a delicious homemade dinner in front of him. He offers nothing to the relationship, and just feeds off of her like a maggot. Their relationship is clearly the perfect recipe for a wacky comedy.
A live-action adaptation from the 1996 manga of the same name, “Happily Ever After” is a very funny and touching film. The early scenes with Sachie and Isao had me cracking up, especially with the table flipping scenes. This action, called “chabudai gaeshi” in Japanese, is a typical movie trope that indicates an old-fashioned, chauvinistic man; but here it is taken to extremes. Abe Hiroshi is an innately charming actor, who pulls off this sort of gruff unlikable character with signature flair. Nakatani Miki was also a perfect choice. She is the kind of princess of sweetness and light that every lonely boy will want to reach through the screen and rescue from this oppressive jerk. She is every girl we ever lost to a guy that didn’t deserve her.
Mid-way through the film, however, it takes a darker turn and we begin to learn that there is much more to the apish Isao and the long-suffering Sachie than meets the eye. There are hidden corridors of darkness behind Sachie’s bright smile and a shinning prince lurks somewhere buried in Isao. Well…maybe not a prince, but certainly someone better than he first appears.
Like both of these characters, “Happily Ever After” is more than it first appears. What should be a light-hearted comedy gets a little serious, and adds depth to the laughs. This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, seeing as how director Tsutsumi Yukihiko is also the brilliant mind behind 2LDK. He knows how to mix and match genres, and take us by surprise when he wants to, and that is exactly what he does here.