An extended stay at a resort hotel, seaside villa or a similar escape hatch is only a dream for most of Japan’s working adults. But local filmmakers — who are in the dream business — have made enough ensemble dramas about romantic/erotic entanglements in such places to launch a small subgenre. Wayne Wang’s moody drama “While The Women Are Sleeping” (“Onna ga Nemuru Toki”) is the latest addition to that subgenre, with an all-Japanese cast and an international staff headed by the Hong Kong-born director. Based on a short story by Spanish novelist Javier Marias, the film is set in an upscale resort hotel on the Izu Peninsula — a popular destination for generations of Tokyo holidaymakers — and unfolds over the course of five days, which is at least three more than the average punter here could spare.
We first see novelist Kenji (Hidetoshi Nishijima) and his editor wife Aya (Sayuri Oyamada) lounging by the glimmering hotel pool and eyeing an odd couple across the way: Sahara (Takeshi “Beat” Kitano), an elderly man with a barrel chest and a boxer’s face, and Miki (Shioli Kutsuna), a girl with a lithe figure and smoldering eyes who looks young enough to be his granddaughter, but is probably his lover.
This pair sparks Kenji’s interest and Aya’s jealousy. The old man is lavishing attention on his age-inappropriate sweetie in a way that Aya now seldom sees from Kenji, who is distracted by his professional woes. Since publishing a best-selling novel years ago he has fallen into a slump so chronic that he is about to chuck the writing game and — horrors! — start a real job.