Kyōtarō Kirihata, 34, has a face made for radio and difficulty talking with women. Thanks to a distinctive voice and a gift for patter that are also perfect for radio, he has in fact become a popular late-night radio personality, but the gap between how he looks and how he sounds remains a constant source of anguish for him. The story goes back four years, to the time he first walked into a bar named “if” in Asakusa even though its sign was unlit. Inside he finds the proprietress Terumi and four of her regulars?nightclub hostess Momoka, transsexual Leika, Buddhist goods shop owner Shigematsu, and exterminator service provider Ishinozaki?all with a hollow look in their eyes.
Kyōtarō begins dropping in every night after going off the air, despite the fact that the bar is not open for business, and he soon learns that the lonely hearts who gather there are all tormented by guilt over past deeds that brought unhappiness to their families in some way, or even caused someone’s death. In an effort to free them from their suffering, he recasts the tragic events they feel responsible for with happy endings and relates those versions of their stories on the air. Touched by his sentiments, the others’ spirits begin to lift little by little, and Terumi prepares to reopen for business. But then tragedy strikes.
Kyōtarō had lost his father at a young age, and has been living with his mother and his pregnant sister (her husband is away on an extended overseas assignment). After the baby is born, the two women and the infant are killed in a traffic accident while out shopping. In consideration of Kyōtarō’s feelings, Terumi decides to put off re-opening the bar, and the whole group of regulars joins her in carrying on with their friend as if his three loved ones are still living. When Kyōtarō was in grade school, he drew comfort and enjoyment from pretending that he was keeping an invisible chameleon. Even if something is imaginary and invisible, it exists in the heart of the one who believes in it and has the power to lift that person’s spirits with its presence. His child’s heart knew this then, and his relationships with the regulars at “if” underscore that feeling now.
It is at this point that 24-year-old Megumi Mikaji, a fan of Kyōtarō’s radio show, appears, and through an odd set of circumstances, draws the bar group into a bizarre revenge drama. Megumi blames the bankruptcy of her father’s home-building company, and his subsequent suicide, on illegal dumping by an industrial waste disposer named Gotō that her father’s company had contracted, and asks for their help in avenging his death. Since it does not appear she actually intends to kill the man, they go along with her: they rationalize that if it will make her feel better, perhaps it’s actually an act of kindness. Megumi also wheedles her way into Kyōtarō’s condo, saying she has nowhere else to stay.
Although they now live under the same roof, Kyōtarō and Megumi rarely even speak. Then one day, Gotō spirits Megumi away. With the aid of a map Megumi has placed on Kyōtarō’s computer, he and the others head for the Okutama mountains west of Tokyo in Ishinozaki’s car. The map leads them to the illegal dumping ground, where they find Megumi and the man she has identified as Gotō?except that it now comes out that this man is actually her father: the company he ran did indeed go belly up, as Megumi had said, but instead of committing suicide, he has been pursuing revenge, and she has actually enlisted the bar group’s help in an effort to stop him.
While still at the dumping ground, Kyōtarō and the others fall into the hands of the real Gotō and his henchmen. They escape peril by telling their captors that everything that’s been taking place has been transmitted to the radio station and recorded, and if Kyōtarō fails to return, radio station staff will listen to it and all will be exposed.
On a mountaintop at sunrise, Kyōtarō tells Megumi the truth about each of the members of the group?as opposed to the happy-ending stories she had previously heard him tell on the air?and says there is nothing wrong with being weak or incomplete, for strength comes from hoping.