Japan always seems to produce dramas that are dark and jaded and perhaps, that’s why I always seem to gravitate toward them. They have a melancholy quality that feels closer to reality without being bogged down by sappy sob stories or tales of whimsy gone awry.
In most cases, I can identify with the aspect or view of the world their drama reflects, in ways that isn’t true in most other areas of the world outside perhaps France, Sweden or Britain.
Therefore, the fact Hirugao [English title: Love Affairs in the Afternoon] is loosely based on the 1960’s critically acclaimed film, Belle de Jour, shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. The film is an adaptation of Joseph Kessel‘s 1928 novel by the same name about a sexually stunted young girl, who becomes an alluring but austere housewife. Unable to be intimate with her husband, she seeks fulfillment in a brothel during the day, but returns to her position at home by night. The title is a witticism of the French word or phrase for prostitute “belle de nuit” (lady of the night).
Sasamota Sawa (Ueta Aya) watches a family across the river from her balcony, as they take in the site of a fire blazing nearby, then runs to welcome her husband, Shunsuke (Suzuki Kosuke), home from work. The next morning, he calls her “Mama,” as he feeds his hamsters, informing the fire was arson but no one’s been charged admitting — “I’d be upset if my new apartment was burnt.”
However, it’s the new neighbors Sawa is concerned with, reporting the new apartment building has new tenants: a couple and their two children— “They seem happy.”
Running late, they hurry to the elevator but Papa draws her attention to her untied shoe and hops on without her, as she bends down to tie it. Biking to work, Sawa muses that her husband finds it cute to call her “Mama” since she has no children but she hates it. Then as she passes the fire site, confesses she wouldn’t care if someone burned down her place for she doesn’t believe she has anything precious enough to grieve for.
The wife from across the river (Kichise Michiko) comes through Sawa’s line at work, who tries to make small talk about the fire the night before but wife doesn’t bite. Her co-worker calls her “snobbish” but Sawa thinks she’s pretty. Later, Sawa studies her face in the mirror and paints her lips with some samples like the model from the poster display and takes a few moments to pout and primp.
A boy giggles behind her and she waves him away, but his brother barrels passed with a cart and she knocks over the entire set of lipsticks. She hunkers down to retrieve and replace them but when one remained out her reach, she glances over he shoulder to check the store surveillance, leans in, swipes the last stick, drops it in her bag and heads to the elevator. Wife gets on as well but they part ways at the parking garage, when two security guards jet up the stairs yelling, “Thief! Thief!”
Sawa follows relieved they aren’t referring to her and ogles as they apprehend two young men. Wife halts at the entry way as well, but when one of the boys calls out “Rikako,” she grabs Sawa and smiles chattering as if they’re friendly, then pulls her close — “I’m Takigawa Rikako and I’m your friend starting right now. I’ll keep quiet about the lipstick, if you’ll play along.”
The police take Sawa’s statement (relayed by Rikako); she was meeting her new neighbor and friend (the young man from the parking garage) for tea when the incident occurred. When the officer briefly leaves them alone, Sawa exclaims she can’t lie to the police, especially not to cover for her affair, muttering it’s “dirty” but Rikako whips at the lipstick tube — “I picked this up for you.”
The officer returns with the high schooler Kinoshita “ruckus maker” and his teacher, Kitano Yuichi (Saito Takumi), who apologizes profusely for his behavior. Rikako won’t press charges but when he offers to take Sawa to the hospital for her injury (she was knocked over and sprained her wrist in the scuffle), Rikako urges her to take him up on it. Irritated, Sawa collects her things and pushes passed Rikako in a huff to leave.
On the ride home, Sawa asks God for forgiveness for her actions but in turn believes —
Sawa: That cheating woman deserves to be punished for hurting her husband and adorable children. I hope her affair gets exposed, and she goes straight to Hell.
Sawa lies to Papa and his mother (Takahata Atsuko) blaming her wrist on swerving from a cat but right before they sit down for dinner, Rikako rings her up. She puts her husband on the line who apologizes for her injury hoping they can continue their friendship, joking Rikako can be clueless at times. Sawa scoffs at his word choice and rushes to end the call once Rikako is back, who haggles for another date with her on Thursday; Sensei insisted on meeting for a settlement — “I know what you think of me, but I sincerely want to apologize.”
Kitano Sensei suspends Kinoshita for a week but with summer on the way, the kid could care less. His mother is still MIA but Sensei wonders if perhaps she has her reasons?
Kinoshita: They were kissing. They were kissing… she looked just like my mother.
He sniggers at how quickly they lied, for he saw them making out in the car and Sawa is their accomplice. Sensei wishes he’d told the police and quit this “rebel without a cause” act, for he’s not that kid. But Kinoshita surmises Senesi drop the act too (that he actually cares about him).
Worried and up late, Sawa is joined in the kitchen by Mother, who remarks on the lipstick. It’s a promising change in pace, and men like fashionable women. Continuing, if Sawa were to take a few more pains in that area, perhaps she’d have a grandchild. In bed, Sawa whines Mother blames their childlessness on her looks, but Shunsuke disagrees, as he applies aromatic lotion and asks her confirms his skin is soft. Sawa sighs to herself, that her husband isn’t gay and adds — “Just because we don’t have sex, doesn’t mean I want to break up.”
Takigawa Toru (Kinoshita Hoka) and the rest of the Bonito Magazine staff have a table meeting throwing around a concept for one of the newest and hottest topics; “Housewives having affairs,” pushing for a Thursday release. According to their research, it’s an epidemic. Housewives have a man for every day of the week. Toru dishes out assignments and asks freelance illustrator Kato Shu (Kitamura Kazuki) to draw more edgy sketches for the piece with couples entwined. But Kato, clearly more concerned about the artistry, believes women are more erotic alone in images.
Toru wants a risque punch to the piece and Kato questions if he’s willing to take responsibility for glamorizing extramarital affairs to their readers. To which Toru replies unconcerned — “We write entertainment, not textbooks.”
Sawa’s attempt to “right her wrong” is botched by a frantic Garage guy over Rikako’s ceased communication, but she has no information and scrambles to make her settlement meeting. At the hotel, Kitano Sensei offers to pay for everything but Rikako refuses, for Kinoshita nor his parents are in attendance. And when she counters his offer with a date, an indignant Kitano storms out.
Pleased, Rikako suggests Sawa follow him, thinking he’s now prime for the picking but Sawa reminds her she’s married and happily at that. However, Rikako begs to differ. She thinks Sawa wants a little adventure in her life and where marriage comes down to careful calculations, trading passion for stability, love is altogether different. — “Are you really willing to forget what it’s like to be a woman? Is your husband trying to create a warm family with you? Does he treasure you like he used to? Does your husband still excite you?”
These questions ruffle Sawa but she changes the subject, telling Rikako GarageGuy is looking for her. But she denounces him as too young and reckless, for affairs should be kept secret. She goes on to relay that the best loves were all affairs but when she insinuates that Sawa is more like the neighborhood arsonist, she too leaves abruptly.
Outside, Sawa notices Kitano Sensei across the street and he beckons her over with a tiny lecture on the four star burying beetle; they’re monogamous and raise families with their mates, much like human couples. He apologizes for his immaturity but confides he hates women who tease man. But Sawa thinks there’s nothing to apologize for, she would’ve punched her. With further discussion Sawa admits his school is her alma- mater and Sensei observes she and Rikako can’t be friends— “I don’t see how you two could get along.”
Meanwhile, Rikako spies the scene from a room upstairs until her guest (Ito Hideaki) arrives.
She pours him a drink but he’s ready to get down to business. When she tries to spark an introduction, he makes it clear, he wants this to play out as a complete fantasy. Plus, given her screen name, “The Beauty of the Day,” she’s about much more than idle chitchat. Rikako asks if he seen the movie and he relays it was about a woman who sells herself during the day.
Rikako : It’s a film where every crime has a price; where there’s a punishment for every crime.
Sawa returns home with Kitano on the brain, in no mood to cook. She’s thinking a dinner on the town with her husband to a certain cure but when she checks with Shunsuke, he’s working late and suggests she get take out. When he hangs up, the text, “Was that your wife?” pops up on his phone.
Hasegawa Misuzu (Kinami Haruka) smirks at his shock and quips that she knows everything and better yet, notices everything about him. Then suggests they go out for dinner after the meeting.
The police question Sawa about the arson. Afterward she spies Garage dude across the street looking for Rikako. Sawa urges him to give it up but he believes they’re in love and she wouldn’t understand. When she shrugs and walks away, he crouches over and begins to cry. But while Sawa turns to comfort him, her mother-in-law takes in the entire scene across the street.
Kitano gives a lecture to a disinterested class, when his thoughts wander to Sawa. The drift is broken by a student’s inquiry about [sexual] intercourse trying to get him to blush. She rouses the class who chants for him to share his personal experience, when Kinoshita walks in, late.
Later, Kinoshita gets pulled in for an intervention. He needs to get a job to support himself, but he isn’t interested and confesses he chose to keep quiet about Rikako’s cheating in hopes to be paid off. Either that or at the very least — “I’d get her to sleep with me.”
Sawa mistakes Kato for Rikako’s husband as he shows up for the Takigawa housewarming party, and gets the invite extended to her. Inside, she’s teased about being the poster child for their upcoming issue. They gossip that the arson was a murder suicide, concocted by a jealous wife trying to kill her husband. But Sawa proffers the opposite could also be true; a cheating wife who wanted to reset her life. However, when Rikako interjects that a housewife are much more cunning nowadays than to try to cover her tracks with something so dangerous, all eyes are on her and she affirms with a chuckle it was all speculation.
Garage Guy shows up at Rikako’s door but Sawa claims he’s her brother and clamors out to drag him away. Once he’s gone, Rikako follows her outside, declaring they are bound to be good friends — “We’re both good liars.”
Kato tries to sneak away but he’s intercepted by Rikako with a personal portrait request. Her husband joins them demanding more drinks and orders her to end her relationship Sawa, assuming Garage Guy’s her lover. But when Rikako disagrees he tells her to do as she’s told and returns to the party. Rikako takes a beer and leans against the fridge with a sigh, while Kato observes, sketching.
Rikako returns ready to sit for her drawing but Kato is finished. Her face falls and he reads this as displeasure and drawls that the only third rate, however Rikako isn’t upset — “This looks just like me.”
Sawa picks up groceries for dinner, then gets a text from Shunsuke that he would won’t be home. A passing group of students brings on a bout of nostalgia and Rikako bikes over to the school, for a wheel down memory lane but she’s stopped by a security guard before entering. When she turns to leave, she runs into Sensei but scurries away.
Shortly down the street, she turns and pedals back, with the confession that she and Rikako aren’t friends after all. He wonders why she came back just to tell him something like that but she says she hates to lie.
Kitano: Have you never told a lie before?
He notices her shoes are untied and she admits that it happens all the time. He watches as she attempts to retie them and observes her problem lies in how she ties them. He gives her pointers and has her try on her own.
Meanwhile, Shunsuke is testing new products with Misuzu. And a young woman comes home after a long day and stretches out on the couch as a beetle plays in a glass jar on her desk.
Reactions, Ramblings and Remarks
So that was a hint Bug girl is connected to Kitano Sensei, right? I have to admit, I hope she’s just a colleague or a girlfriend, ’cause for now, two marriages being affected by an affair or impending affair is more than enough. The storytelling of this drama is quite interesting with Sawa as not only our protagonist but our narrator, however, just like in other written works, I wonder if she is a reliable one. For now, I am to believe, what she shares are her true feelings and events as she sees them, but somehow, I get the sensation, she’s not as sincere as she should be and is still be holding things back. Though with further thought, I may not be the only victim, for there’s a distinct possibility she’s as unaware of her true feelings as I.
Or perhaps, my issue, is due to the foreboding factor of her connection with Kitano Yuichi or her similarity to Takigawa Rikako. For though the idea upsets Sawa(and rightfully so), Rikako wasn’t wrong in her assessment of her. However, her assumption may be incorrect. Sawa lies and she lies well, but at times, even lies have layers of intent. She and Rikako, lie to protect images of themselves, for they both play a “part” for the the people they love and should love them. Which oddly, makes them no different from the ordinary person. They present the best part of themselves and keep the vulnerable, sensitive, ugly stuff under wraps.
Even in the first shot of Sawa, she’s eating, watching Rikako and Toru laugh with their girls and she later describes them as “happy,” yet her expression taking them in, isn’t. Now, we don’t really know why this is, but throughout the episode, we see that Sawa is much more of a spitfire or feisty individual when she’s not with her husband or with people she knows. And honestly, that Sawa, I like much, much more. She even reveals a level of this “self” to Kitano, which furthers Rikako’s idea, the two are bound for something. Also, how coincidental is it that she shoplifts (for the first time?) on the very same day she meets the woman that will change her life?
I, like Sawa, didn’t care for Rikako when I first met her. But not in a way of dislike but based on her inherent bad influence. She gives across the sense that she is this femme fatale, having these lusty experiences, to which she returns home and plays the docile, empty headed housewife. She’s dangerous— that’s what you think. However, by the end of the episode, you realize, Rikako isn’t any more lethal or sympathetic than anyone else out there, for she certainly doesn’t have it all figured out. Her encounter with her “afternoon delight” made it very clear she believes everything she shared about finding love outside of marriage. She’s looking for connection and acceptance but she’s not “searching.” Instead, she has a strategic plan (for she has rules and ideologies) to fill that gap within herself, yet maintain a status quo. Not only for herself, but for what she’s built; her family. Unfortunately, I believe she’s playing a game where there are no winners, only losers and she will come to regret ever buying into her current mindset.
Lastly, there’s no way, I could let this episode pass without mentioning Sawa’s shoelaces. Shoes have several superstitions interwoven around them, and untied laces convey numerous connotations about a character. And though I’d love to delve into that symbolism, what is more telling than why Sawa was written with this quirk, is the fact Kitano takes the time to teach her how to correct it. The moment has very little to do with the fact Kitano is a “teacher” but that he, unlike her husband, pays attention to her and offers to be of help, instead of abandoning her or leaving her to her own devices. For she and Shunsuke may be married but they live very separate lives. He seems to have no real interest in Sawa outside her label as his wife. And though I doubt he is anymore intentional is his dismissal of his wife, as Toru is both condescending and overbearing, the fact is there.
Therefore, when she meets Kitano, there’s an immediate (and off putting) attraction, because he “sees” her; not once, but twice. This last time, he empowers her by simply taking notice and finding her problems important. It’s a very small gesture, but a substantial building block that is large enough for them both to stumble over. For, unbeknownst to him, with this simple gesture alone, Sawa is no longer encumbered or inhibited, making it all the more easy for her to walk any place she wants to be.