Happily Ever After: Domestic discontent in Japan

I'm pretty sure that's a fake mole glued on the nose of actress Miki Nakatani—a badge, as it were, of all her life's sorrows. Abandoned by her mother, her father in jail, Yukie writes long letters to Mom expressing her discontent. Which would be as plain to us as the mole on her face, even without the many voiceovers. Nakatani plays our heroine as both outcast teen and grown, careworn woman, and Happily makes some unexpected lurches between the two, including an extended flashback while adult Yukie is in a coma. (Yes, it's that kind of movie.) Although based on a manga, the picture emphasizes melodrama over style—albeit with some welcome notes of comic punctuation. Long-suffering Yukie hooks up with an emotionally unresponsive former yakuza (tall, dour Hiroshi Abe), who favors Hawaiian shirts in the Osaka framing story but looks like a long-haired Matrix extra in the Tokyo coma flashback. Will Yukie bring him out of his shell? Will her noodle-shop boss confess his secret love for her? Will Mom or Dad ever return? And what about Yukie's fellow pariah from schoolgirl days—could their bond of friendship possibly survive so many years of misfortune? It's a soap opera (tune in next week to As Yukie Turns...), although Nakatani never comes off as a daytime drama queen. Maybe it's the mole, or Japanese repression, but her quiet, bruised optimism is endearing. She's a martyr to everyday hardship, a woman who dries others' tears before her own.

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