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A moving, if flawed, stroll through Tokyo
on 17 February 2014
Miki Satoshi is a young Japanese director (b. 1961) who started off as a writer for TV variety shows, graduated on to stage directing and turned feature film director in 2005 with two films - In the Pool and Turtles are Suprisingly Fast Swimmers. Adrift in Tokyo (Japanese title, Tenten) came out in 2007 and the consensus seems to be that it’s his best film to date. Miki (not to be confused with Miike Takashi who makes very different films!) specializes in looking humorously at contemporary Japanese society, pinpointing issues which irritate on a daily basis. An adaptation by Miki of a Fujita Yoshinaga novel, Adrift in Tokyo deals with the rootless transience of the modern day Japanese family. Takemura Fumiya (Odagiri Jō) is an 8th year college student who has accrued a debt of 800,000 yen (about 4,000 pounds). Debt collector Fukuhara Aiichiro (Miura Tomokazu) comes a-knocking and eventually makes him an offer he can’t refuse. Takemura must take a walk with him across Tokyo to the police station in Kasumigaseki, at which point he will give the student 1,000,000,000 yen (50,000 pounds) before turning himself in for a crime he has committed. The film charts the walk, the experiences they have, the characters they meet, and the sea change of emotions that both characters undergo.
Without giving too much away, Fumiya is an orphan. Abandoned by his parents when he was a baby he has never known what the concept of family is. Fukuhara has married but we learn that the marriage is not only loveless, but also childless. The film plays on the needs the two men have, one for a father and the other for a son. Not surprisingly, skeptical toleration turns into familial warmth as the pair go on an adventure. The film’s most successful sequence has them eating dinner with a friend of Fukuhara’s, Makiko (Koizumi Kyōko) and a young teenager, Fufumi (Yoshitaka Yuriko) who is living with her. They enjoy a ‘family meal’ together with one important difference – none of them are related. A beautiful idea, it says it all about the way the concept of ‘family’ has gone in today’s society. People have lost the ability to live together happily in real families, but the basic desire for family security, for family love never dies.
Some people have raved about this film. I enjoyed it with certain reservations. The improvised nature of many of the scenes works very well. The two main actors give fresh and spontaneous performances which are natural and empathetic. We care about these people and the pay-off at the end is moving. As a resident in Japan I have to say though that I get irritated by certain stereotypes of ‘Japanese’ behavior that keep reappearing here in film after film and TV program after TV program. A walk through Tokyo can’t just be a walk through Tokyo. It has to be pepped up with kung-fu expert octogenarians, weirdo theme-dressing nightclubs, fantastical leaps off roof-tops, a lone rocker walking the streets of Shinjuku blaring away with his electric guitar, and so on. In short it’s the kind of stuff that Clive James used to make TV programs about and which feeds the ever-growing (mistaken) belief held by westerners that the Japanese are a very strange lot indeed. The Japanese enjoy letting their hair down by looking at themselves like this and a casual glance at TV here shows a picture very similar to the one Miki draws – his TV origins couldn’t be any clearer. For westerners who aren’t familiar with Japanese films or TV the episodes our two protagonists have might appear fresh and incisive. For me, however it’s just more of the same. Why do I need to watch this in a cinema when I can switch on the TV and see it any time I want? Less of the willful, hackneyed bizarre, and more fresh psychological depth would have helped Miki no end here. It’s a shame really, because as said, there’s nothing wrong with the framework of the story which in itself is an excellent idea which hits home successfully. Oh, and I can’t resist adding that I really enjoyed recognizing the many Tokyo locations used in the film. For returned ex-pats familiar with Tokyo this film will definitely bring back a lot of memories.
This Third Window Films DVD is excellent quality, the anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio providing true visuals and the 5.1 surround sound ideally clear. There is a 70 minute ‘Making Of’ documentary which is actually very good. We get to go behind the scenes and see Miki directing many of the scenes. The extra was made for the Japanese market and is interesting for foreigners wanting to understand how different the culture really is, the way actors are interviewed and how the production staff treats each other on set. I see you can also buy this film as a 3DVD set released by Third Window which also includes Instant Swamp and Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers. I haven’t seen either of these and can’t comment. Probably if you want just a Miki taster then Adrift in Tokyo is the one you should see first.