Starting as he meant to go on, Nobuhiro Yamashita’s debut feature film is the story of two slackers, each aimlessly drifting through life without a sense of purpose or trajectory in sight. His humour here is even drier than in his later films and though the tone is predominantly sardonic, one can’t help feeling a little sorry for his hapless, lonely “heroes” trapped in their vacuous, empty lives.
Kee (Hiroshi Yamamoto), a rocker with a giant quiff, meets Tsutomu (Teppei Uda) outside a pachinko parlour and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. Tsumtomu, a little gormless looking and near silent, ends up moving into Kee’s apartment where his main “job” appears to be copying videotapes of the amateur porn (sorry, “erotic cinema” movies) made by his friend Todokoro and his girlfriend(?) Akiko. In fact, Kee sometimes “stars” in the films too, which is something he might have wanted to tell Tsutomu before showing him the video. Kee also has a four year old child he doesn’t really get to see who lives with his ex-partner and only knows him as “uncle”.
As in many of Yamashita’s other films, nothing much happens as Kee and Tsutomu kill time whilst worrying and not worrying about the future. Neither of the guys has a proper job or any concrete ambitions, they mostly just eat time playing pachinko, drinking and hanging out with Tadokoro and Akiko. Kee is still mooning over his ex-girlfriend and, though it’s not clear why they split up, his own fecklessness may be the reason he’s not more involved in his child’s life even if he clearly would like to be. Tsutomu has developed a bit of a crush on Akiko but he never really tries to do very much about it (though he does have the good grace to turn down Kee’s invitation to become a star in one of the videos).
In constrast to his later work, Yamashita injects a number of fantasy sequences which seem to take place entirely within Tsutomu’s mind. Mostly they’re quite gentle – making a bunch of money at Pachinko and taking Akiko out for a slap-up meal or the poignant final scene of all the characters together as they enjoy a picnic under the cherry blossoms like one big happy family. However, there is one very unexpected scene which occurs after Tsutomu is caught shoplifting (which he does very badly) offering only the excuse that he’s forgotten his wallet and was too lazy to go back and get it. This fairly shocking scene of violence is one that does not typically re-occur in Yamashita’s later work and is notable for its extreme bloodiness and direct contrast to the overall tone. Perhaps intended to show Tsutomu’s inner frustrations (he spends much of the rest of the film asleep), this scene becomes one of the most intriguing in the film.
Hazy Life is a “zero budget” affair and makes no attempt to hide that. Shot on low quality equipment and committed to a “natural” look, it makes no claim to aesthetic prettiness though it does display Yamashita’s gift for interesting compositions this time working within a 4:3 frame. The fantasy sequences themselves are presented as reality bar one use of double exposure which is in general out of keeping with Yamashita’s naturalistic style as is the brief use of time-lapse photography.
Not uninteresting, but perhaps more interesting as a taste of things to come rather than as a feature in its own right. Hazy Life is just that, hazy and somewhat meandering as Kee and Tsutomu muddle through life with an air of mild depression and no particular hope in sight. “what day is it?”, “I don’t know”, “Well never mind – at least we’re alive”. This late conversation more or less sums the entire film and it’s poignantly sweet, fantasy sequence ending adds another layer of pathos to this subtly humorous look at laid-back modern life at the bottom of the heap.