It's a gentle, quiet film about people who drew the short straw in life. It's the unglamorous side of being an adult. All the male characters are training in carpentry, but very few of them have any real interest in it and are just doing it for the unemployment insurance. Doing something like this is government-mandated. What's more, our protagonist (Joe Odagiri) is a quietly self-loathing forty-something with an ex-wife and a four-year-old daughter he hasn't seen in three years. He thought he was doing the right thing. He was just being normal. Find a job. Get married. Have a baby. Then everything went wrong.
There's also a girl (Yu Aoi, who's always excellent). There's something wrong with her. At first, you just think she's an oddball. Later, you realise that she's taking pills and is liable to start screaming at the top of her voice at you.
That's heavy content, but the film's mostly quite light and relaxed. Odagiri's leading a peaceful existence in an attractive seaside town. (There's plenty of green and you can see the sea, at least.) It's just that he's unemployed and has no plans for his future, instead spending his days doing training he doesn't care about with a bunch of other losers like him. (That's not how he used to be, but it's how he is now.) There's a chap who'll end up going off the deep end and I'd have liked to know where his story led. There's a grandad who's just doing carpentry to pass the time. There's a young man who's trying to recruit Odagiri as his business partner and who likes talking about easy women and having sex with them. (There's a horrifying conversation he has with Odagiri late in the film, which is unforgivable because he's saying all that in Aoi's presence.)
Odagiri drifts through all this. He's polite and nice, but he keeps his distance and he's determined enough about that that it's slightly painful seeing Aoi trying so hard to pick him up. Every so often, someone will say something nice about Odagiri and he'll offhandedly correct them. "I'm the worst." "They're all better than me."
Both Odagiri and Aoi do top-quality work. Odagiri's being understated, as the role requires, whereas Aoi's playing someone who's pretty damn broken and has enough self-awareness to make it hurt more. "I thought I could change, starting today." She's likeable, but she'd probably be a nightmare as a life partner. You'd have to be a saint to live with her, although that said it's possible that Odagiri's character might be capable of getting there. She has charm, though, if you don't mind someone doing flamboyant ostrich impressions in the street for about a minute, while everyone's watching.
This isn't a plot-driven story. Instead it's the kind of understated Japanese movie that lots of moviegoers would probably call boring. It's realistic. It's a study of unlucky, low-achieving people and the problems that helped make them that way. They're not particularly clever. They're not always very good at thinking of others, although the better ones at least are trying. The film's examining issues like divorce, mental health and moderate depression. The meeting with the ex-wife is a particularly delicate little horror, with both of them being calm and nice even as it's made very clear where the misunderstandings came from and how he hurt her. There's a little bit of blood in that conversation. Similarly the film's ending is nice but inconclusive, offering hope without resolving anything.
This film isn't about misery, but it's a gentle 112 minutes in the company of people who could easily end up there. (For what it's worth, it's adapted from a story by a Japanese novelist, Yasushi Sato, who committed suicide at the age of 41 in 1990.) It's not depressing, though. In its way, it's quite nice.