Dir: Ryosuke Hashiguchi. Japan. 2001. 135 mins.

Hashiguchi's directorial debut, Like Grains of Sand, won prizes at Rotterdam, Dunkirk and the Turin Gay And Lesbian Festival. But it is less easy to see Hush!, his second feature, achieving the same welcome and having the same impact even on the arthouse circuit. This story of three lonely people-a gay couple and a young woman determined to bear a child by one of the two men-would be more sympathetic if the cast were more proficient, the film was a good deal shorter and the ending less comfortingly facile.

Somehow Hashiguchi's thesis that family is not always a matter of blood and that, in today's world, there are new definitions which should be respected, comes clear too late to be fully effective. He's clearly trying to show that warmth and humanity can take some unusual forms, and that gay life does not preclude women. But we should know that by now, and it takes more than this meandering story to involve us fully in something so obvious.

One of the men, Naoya (Kazuya Takahashi), lives an openly gay life, full of one night stands. He works by day in a pet shop catering for wealthy animal lovers. He's 30 and thinks he's satisfied. Katsuhiro, his friend of the same age (Seiichi Tanabe) is a research engineer who has more trouble with his sexuality. So much so, in fact, that he can't bring himself to reject the girl in the office who fancies him.

The third member of the trio is Asako (Reiko Kataoka) who makes crowns and bridges at a dental clinic. She watches the two men become friends and lovers and she knows the score enough to realise the girl in love with Katsuhiro is barking up the wrong tree. But she isn't. She likes Katsuhiro, tells him he has the eyes of a father and wants him to give her a child, presumably by artificial insemination.

Naoya finds the idea ludicrous. But Katsuhiro is haunted by it. So when the girl goes to hospital with fibroid cysts, having been told by her doctor to have a hysterectomy, he is at her side. But clearly the three must come together as a family before the young woman's plan can be implemented.

The film is realist in tone and, among its virtues is the fact that none of the three are innocents. Naoya and Asako have had promiscuous lifestyles, while Katsuhiro has been living a lie. How they can forge decent lives for themselves forms the kernel of the story.

Hashiguchi seems to want to make a film of popular appeal, but can't quite fathom a way of doing it. The film simply hasn't the dramatic power to involve a large audience, nor the artifice to persuade a smaller one. What should have been a 90-minute tale is spun out to 135 minutes and it is never sharp enough to engage us fully in the fate of the characters.

There are certainly good moments, such as when Asako searches out her alcoholic father but receives no comfort from him. And Hashiguchi is good at illustrating big city life with humour as well as compassion. On the whole, though, Hush!, which is divided into four seasons somewhat arbitrarily, drifts along nicely enough but without the strength or the power to engage us fully.

Prod cos Eisei Gekijo, Telesis Int'l

Int'l sales Fortissimo Film Sales

Prod Tetsujiro Yamagami

Scr Ryosuke Hashiguchi

DoP Shogo Ueno

Ed Hashiguch

Prod des Fumio Ogawa

Lighting Kazuo Yabe

Sound Yoshiteru Takuhashi

Mus Bobby McFerrin

Main cast Kazuya Takahashi,Seiichi Tanabe,Reiko Katoaka