Ranking the Ryūsuke Hamaguchi Films

It appears that a large amount of Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s filmography is unavailable, but here the four I could find ranked! He makes great movies. Watch them. If more become available, they will get added to the list.

5. Passion [2008]

Hamaguchi’s second film was released when he was thirty years old(-ish) and very much feels like a film made about relationships and friendship by a person who just escaped their twenties. I say that with so much love and compassion because I would never go back to twenties brain ever again. It is truly a self-destructive time in most people’s lives. You settle down too soon. You don’t tell people how they feel. You convince yourself that you know who are without having any idea. You act impulsively and recklessly. You do not know how to prioritize your own interests without running people over. You are just a goddamn mess, and it fucking sucks. And Hamaguchi captures that with his trademarked empathy.


4. Asako I & II [2018]

“I no longer have the power to trust you.”

Why are we drawn to people? Are we truly drawn to the same people over and over again? Or do we project what our subconscious thinks they want to see in others? How much do your past relationships live with you? What I love most about Hamaguchi films is how the film dares to confront you endlessly with questions about yourself and life all the while not giving a fuck about pretending it knows the answer to any of them. The conceit here by which the questions get asked is that Asako literally over the course of the film falls in love with diametrically different men but both men look exactly the like because they were played by the same actor. The way we got drawn to people is a giant mystery and yet it dictates so much of existence. We can never delude ourselves to fully understand why it is we are drawn to people, the film is a reminder of why we must never stop interrogating ourselves.


3. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy [2021]

“I bet you never imagined how badly I got hurt from hurting you.”

Through the use of these three narratively separate but thematically connected short stories, Hamaguchi uses Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy to explore the value and important of intimate connections. All three stories see people being brought together and then the deep emotions that being together can create. The flip side of that is that the distance that the characters previously had gave them the time to develop cruel ideas of the other people. The further we are from people either by choice or circumstances, the less we see each other as actual people. We do not see the commonalities of our lives and the universal struggles our shared experiences that come with existing. How do we develop such callous attitudes towards people we have never met or towards people we once loved dearly?


2. Drive My Car [2021]

“Those who survive keep thinking about the dead.”

Hamaguchi “broke out” with a wider audience after his second 2021 film, Drive My Car. You can probably tie yourself in knots trying to explain and figure out why certain foreign language films connect with United States audiences, critic, and awards people, but I am generally less interested in that.

Instead, I am still more fascinated by Hamaguchi’s brilliant exploration into emotion and the attachments humans develop for one another.

All the major characters in Drive My Car are suffering a grave loss (or multiple losses) that have impacted their entire lives. Every character has their own way of coping with that loss and how to continue onward.

In one form or another, all of the characters on some level avoiding the devastating emotions inside of them or at the very least are completely resistant towards expressing them outwardly in any noticeable manner. This leaves each person with a deep feeling of emptiness inside of them.

Hamaguchi, as he is wont to do, does not judge the characters for how they are living but instead pushes us to ask how do we fill those gaping holes in our lives? He also explores the idea that just because a person is gone, it does not keep our feelings for them static.

Our love for people is not simple by any means. To love someone is to allow someone to get close to us which means they have the ability to hurt us deeper than anyone else. The ability to love and hurt harder are not contradictory. They exist simultaneously with one another. With this latest film, Hamaguchi solidified himself as one of the modern masters of the craft.


1. Happy Hour [2015]

In many ways, the film is a remarkable accomplishment. Like the vast majority of the best art to exist, it continuously asks questions about humanity without pretending to have any sincere answers. The film functions as a continuous act of introspection and as a comment on the importance of introspection for the sake of introspection without any expectation that some comfort will follow. Why do we make the decisions we do? How do we end up with the people we are supposedly choosing? How do circumstances shape us and how do we shape our circumstances? Hamaguchi masterfully spends five hours with our four protagonists and a host of supporting characters in their lives to show the torture so many of us are doing to ourselves and others. He rather seamlessly goes in deep with the characters so that you feel like you have known them all of your life while also pulling back and making them all into ideas more than actual people and relying on the feelings they cause you to feel. You watch this and cannot help but think that a genius made it.


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