Despite a career spanning nearly three decades, Yukiko Mishima hasn't appeared on many lists of up-and-coming Japanese female directors, mine included. One reason: She had a relatively late start, not releasing her first feature, a drama based on the Junichiro Tanizaki story "The Tatooer," until 2009. Another reason: Her five films to date have not won major festival awards abroad or racked up big box-office numbers at home.

Mishima's sixth and newest film, "Dear Etranger," may not change that. It had its world premiere at the 18th Jeonju International Film Festival last May, but not in the competition. Nonetheless, this film about a middle-aged man's struggles with the consequences of divorce and remarriage, particularly a tween stepdaughter who can't stand the sight of him, represents an advance and, I hope, a breakthrough.

Realism in Japanese family dramas, even the better ones, does not often get this real. But the film is not a two-hour wallow in misery, designed to extract hankies from purses. Change, we see, can bring not only loss and regret, but also relief and even the possibility of happiness, however temporary.