Synopsis: Based on the comic strip series by Yoshiie Gouda, Happily Ever After is a visually striking dark comedy that follows the devoted wife Yukie and her unemployed ex-gangster husband Isao. Isao’s uncontrollable temper often results in the dinner table being overturned and their meal on the floor. Everyone advises Yukie to leave Isao, but her love her him is unconditional because he was the one who initially saved her from misery with his unconditional love.
Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi (Memories Of Tomorrow), Happily Ever After is vividly brought to life by the powerful co-starring of Miki Nakatani (Train Man: Densha Otoko) and Hiroshi Abe (Godzilla 2000).
Jigyaku no Uta 7.75
eyelights: its black comedy. its style. its setting.
eyesores: its more melancholy third act. Isao’s inexplicable transformation.
“Misery made you crazy.”
‘Jigyaku no Uta’ is a 2007 live-action film based on the eponymous manga series by Yoshiie Gouda that was published from the mid-to-late ’80s. It tells the story of Yukie, a young woman who is joined at the hip by Isao, an abusive ex-Yakuza, whom she refuses to leave despite pressure from everyone around her. Instead, she struggles to ignore his daily outbursts in the hope of eventually finding happiness.
Marketed in North America as ‘Happily Ever After’, and as a dark comedy, it had been on my radar for many years – ever since I stumbled upon it at the local library. Since then, it has come recommended by a cinephile friend of mine, further intriguing me. Meanwhile, it has also been met with mixed feelings from another friend, who found the abusive relationship hard to take. I watched it with caution.
‘Jigyaku no Uta’ is a curious beast. It begins as a wacky comedy, setting the stage and introducing us to the characters, and deriving its laughs from absurd little moments in spite (and often because) of Isao’s abhorrent aggression. Then it morphs into more of a drama, as it explores Yukie’s past, showing us her poor upbringing and the abuse it brought on. Then it ends on a more contemplative note.
Frankly, despite the unpalatable nature of Yukie and Isao’s relationship, I found the first part the most entertaining; I laughed out loud quite a few times thanks to its little humourous touches and misadventures. The second part was certainly interesting because it explained why Yukie endured all the mistreatment: having lost her mother, and with her father in jail, she was afraid of being alone.
But it didn’t justify it to me. For me, there’s absolutely no reason why anyone should stand for that type of BS – even if, as is the case here, Yukie was once the erratic one and Isao had come to her rescue a few times, having fallen in love with her even though she was a junkie prostitute. Granted, his unwavering acceptance of her and his softness helped her sort out her life. But that’s long gone.
Now, his behaviour is unconscionable and unacceptable by any standard: he drinks himself silly, flips the dinner table daily, doesn’t work, gambles all her money and intimidates everyone around her, sometimes even stealing from them. In my estimation, there’s no justifiable excuse why anyone would accept all this and/or not give their abuser an ultimatum. No reason. So I found that difficult to watch.
I also found it unfortunate that we never found out what made Isao this way. It’s not always essential to explain everything away in a movie, true. Except that ‘Jigyaku no Uta’ explains just about everything else, so it might as well have filled in that massive gap. It was a revelation to find out that Yikue had once needed saving and that he was her guardian angel. But what made him turn into a demon since?
If only we’d understand that, then maybe we could accept the status quo.
Alas, we never do.
We can appreciate Yukie’s loyalty and devotion, but never her endless sacrifices. When her hopelessly smitten boss repeatedly offers to take her in, to provide her with a better life, even going so far as proposing to her, we don’t understand why she doesn’t just jump at the chance for guaranteed happiness. It’s realistic, sadly, because many women remain in abusive relationships. But why does Yukie?
After all, it doesn’t make her happy – and from the onset she tells us that she seeks happiness.
So what gives?
Having said this, ‘Jigyaku no Uta’ remains an excellent film. The performances are rock solid, if a bit on the comical side, and there’s a lot of meaty bits to sink one’s teeth into. Its tone is a little uneven, and it’s not as satisfying as one might hope for (I really wanted Yukie to take her destiny into her own hands instead of deciding that there’s no such thing as happiness or unhappiness).
Still, it’s well worth seeing – especially as a counterpoint to all the Hollywood trash we’re barraged with, selling us fantasies that have no basis in reality. Perhaps ‘Jigyaku no Uta’ is too firmly rooted in reality, perhaps it’s even too cynical, but it mixes this with enough humour and hope that it’s a breath of fresh air to watch. Just don’t expect a romantic fantasy, because it’s anything but.
Post scriptum: It certainly made me curious about the original manga. I’d love to read it. Stay tuned…
Date of viewing: January 4, 2015