Dir: Hashiguchi Ryosuke | Dragons & Tigers | Japan | 2015 | 140 mins
Japanese director Hashiguchi Ryosuke has been described as creating films that concern themselves with “the fragility of relationships and the basic need of human beings for connection.” Three Stories of Love is no exception, with its delicate character studies of people seemingly unlucky in love and life.
When Three Stories of Love begins, there’s a large cast of characters and quick cuts as one scene abruptly shifts to the next storyline. It’s a bit disorienting and somewhat difficult at first to figure out which characters we’ll be focusing our energies on — it seems like anyone from the large cast of side characters could be the centre of a fascinating movie — from the fickle anchorwoman seeking a divorce, to the squabbling couple who own a bento-making company together. But the movie gradually narrows down to a grieving bridge repairman (Shinohara Atsushi), a listless housewife (Narushima Toko) and an ambitious yet seemingly happy-go-lucky lawyer with hidden depths (Ikeda Ryo).
The performances in each storyline are sensitively wrought, although Shinohara Atsushi, as the bereaved bridge repairman, had the trickiest role, and in many ways, the most real. Much like real life, it’s difficult to be around a constantly grieving man. We are forced to stay with him in his sadness, even when the movie runs the risk of wallowing. But we’re too often used to healing in the space of an hour, and Shinohara’s bridge-repairman reminds us of the truth in grief. Narushima Toko gives a heartbreaking performance as a housewife who has seemingly let life slip through her fingers. Ikeda Ryo also gives greater depth in a role that could have been cliche — a gay lawyer who hides his pain of unrequited love with a smile.
Hashiguchi directs Three Stories patiently, allowing the viewer to get to know each character intimately, in both their mundane and extraordinary moments. What happens next is life — the random observations of people we see on the street that speak to our own lives; the fragile connections we make with strangers, co-workers, or someone who’s experiencing the same kind of pain we are; the moments of levity as we confide in a friend.