To call Megane a trifling lark would be accurate, if unfairly diminishing. About a woman staying at an oceanside retreat, the calm and calming film’s sauntering, sand-bogged rhythms are as soothing as a holiday’s; to take in Megane is to take a quick vacation, or at least enjoy a lazy day: its scenes — taking a walk, having a bite, watching the surf, playing Reversi, strumming a mandolin — have the effect of basking in a springtime sun, teetering on the hypnagogic brink of a nap.
Taeko (Satomi Kobayashi) arrives at a remote resort, run by Yuji (Ken Mitsuishi) and otherwise populated by a mystical elderly woman, Sakura (Masako Motai), who barters shaved ice on the beach, as well as Haruna (Mikako Ichikawa), a teacher at a nearby high school. Ogigami and her actors wisely define their characters without backstories or obvious motivations, only through their day-to-day, moment-to-moment behaviors. Taeko doesn’t like shaved ice, she doesn’t like to eat with the owners or be personally woken up in the morning; she doesn’t even know how to “twilight,” which is what the locals do. (It’s never quite defined — some sort of saudade-inflected meditation?) Though tinged with an air of mystery, enhanced by Ogigami’s prowling camera and some late-introduced symbology, Megane is essentially a culture clash comedy, though the Japanese are so patient and polite that there are few actual clashes, let alone laughs.
Instead, there are copious shots of lip-smacking food and drink — vegetable mélanges, sizzling meat slices and fresh salads, lobsters and bacon strips, all washed down with frosty, frothy mugs of beer — as well as sun-soaked frames filled with bleached-out beaches, tropical trails and a sweeping sea. Taeko eventually learns to relax, to abandon her large suitcase and expectations of entertained solitude to become a contented social creature that doesn’t commodify the world’s pleasantries. She learns to see the world rosily — not through jaundiced lenses. (The title translates to “glasses,” which Taeko wears until she doesn’t.) The director’s gentle hand doesn’t force these ideas; all changes of character happen gradually and organically, which distinguishes the film from its hyperartificial Hollywood counterparts. (Most recently, New in Town.) Though flecked with poignant reminders of death and eternity, Megane is quietly rapturous, truly joyous and legitimately uplifting: an ode to the pleasures of unhurried living. Its lessons are pat — “it’s important not to rush” — but the execution is thoroughly convincing.