Adrift in Tokyo (2007) by Satoshi Miki

Two men embark on a stroll around the capital in this easy-going comedy drama. Fumiya (Joe Odagiri) is deep in debt, having spent 8 years as a student. The man sent to collect on these debts, Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura), comes to him with a bizarre proposition: if Fumiya will accompany him on a walk around the city he will hand him enough money to clear his debts. Fumiya later discovers that Fukuhara has killed his wife and intends to hand himself in at a particular police station; but wishes to spend his final days taking in sights that he used to enjoy with his wife. The two of them set out, meeting quirky characters and philosophizing about their lives, before Fumiya is recruited into a fake family consisting of Fukuhara, his fake-wife Makiko (Kyoko Koizumi) and her neice Fufumi (Yuriko Yoshitaka).

“Adrift in Tokyo”, based on the novel by Yoshinaga Fujita and directed by Satoshi Miki, takes you along on a meandering journey, its languid pace sustained by the odd-couple dynamic of Fumiya and Fukuhara, both men searching for something intangible on their perambulations. The comedy is similarly understated with the occasional flash of surrealism, such as the 66-year old cosplayer, or the psychedelic rocker Fumiya ends up tailing through the streets. In its loosely strung-together series of quirky moments and ideas the film captures the sense of tramping through a city as diverse as Tokyo. “Adrift in Tokyo” very much adheres to the mantra that it is the journey rather than the destination that is important, never fully reconciling certain ideas and offering little in the way of closure.

Fumiya repeatedly refers to the fact that he was abandoned by his parents and seems to find a surrogate father in Fukuhara. Fukuhara also seems to lack a sense of identity, instead hiring himself out to play a character in a fake family. As the two wander around they come across different aspects of the city, questing for a sense of self amongst the overwhelming variety of Tokyo. The bizarre characters they meet, glimpsed only briefly, offer a window into the myriad lives that are carrying on around each individual. It is perhaps hard for people to discover who they are while feeling part of such a vast whole.

Airport 2013 (2013) by Koki Mitani

When there is a transfer flight delay, a put-upon ground staff worker at a small town airport has to deal with a family that has plenty of problems of their own. We meet Okouchi (Yuko Takeuchi) as her manager, Muraki (Masahiro Komoto), is explaining that bad weather means a connecting flight from Saga to Tokyo will be delayed at their small airport in Matsumoto. This manager also makes her a marriage proposal, an offer Okouchi is reluctant to accept due to a previous failed office romance. The arrivals from the Saga flight include a family led by Tanokura (Teruyuki Kagawa), who is having an affair with a young dental hygenist, Yuri (Erika Toda), from Osaka. His wife, Miyoko (Misuzu Kanno), is courted by a man claiming to be an old schoolfriend, who later turns out to be a con-man named Kunikida (Joe Odagiri). Their daughter, Mayumi (Anna Ishibashi) has a secret relationship she is hoping to spring on them, while their son (Sosuke Ikematsu) seems desparate to return to Tokyo for an unknown reason. Tanokura’s brother-in-law Kuranosuke Tsuruhashi (Katsuhisa Namase) is also seeking for funding for his dreams of building a planetarium. And their grandfather (Toshiki Ayata) has a secret of his own. Okouchi does her best to help them out, offering advice and assistance, supported by her own friend who works at the information desk.

This made-for-television film, written and directed by Koki Mitani, is a fantastically plotted and acted farce. The whole film takes place within the small airport set and is shot in a single take. This gives things a theatrical feel and the lack of cuts makes you appreciate the skill of the actors staying in character throughout. The camera largely follows Okouchi from one area of the airport to another, occasionally drifting away to focus on other characters, which helps break up the film into scenes even as a single long take. The humour is fairly broad, mostly revolving around relationship troubles or odd characters, such as the con-man or Kuranosuke’s obsession with raising money to build a planetarium. The film also has several running gags, adding layers of absurdity as things progress, building to a chaotic climax as secrets begin tumbling out. The actors all give fantastic performances. Yuko Takeuchi’s Okouchi is a likeable and relatable employee, having to maintain a veneer of respect and politeness while facing unbelievable situations and characters. Her comedic performance is helped by the supporting cast, including some incredible actors giving excellent comic performances, each given a moment to shine. For the most part the characters really only have one joke each, but the interplay between them and the way they all come together at this singular inconvenient moment provides plenty of humour. The airport set, including small background details give a real sense of place, the bustle of extras helping bring that strange airport atmosphere of people drifting around to life. The music by Kiyoko Ogino, a bouncy piano score, reflects the light-hearted tone of the comedy-drama, allowing you to relax and realise that nothing here should be taken too seriously.

“Airport 2013” focusses on familial and romantic relationships and the secrets that often hold them together. Each of the characters has a dream or a secret. Okouchi acts almost as a conscience for the characters, encouraging, warning, helping, or hindering where necessary. The thrill of watching a ‘live’ performance in the single-take style adds an element of fun to things and it is great to see such a talented cast brought together. The humour is universal and suitable for all ages. An entertaining watch about the stresses of trying to keep things together under difficult circumstances, and the secrets that families keep from one another.

Her Love Boils Bathwater (2016)

Futaba Sachino (Rie Miyazawa) lives with her daughter Azumi (Hana Sugisaki). The bathhouse they used to run is now closed after her husband (Joe Odagiri) ‘vanished like steam’ a year ago. When Futaba is given a devastating diagnosis of terminal cancer she goes to find her former partner, who is now living alone with his daughter Ayuko. The two come to live with Futaba and Azumi and they re-open the bathhouse. With little time left Futaba endeavors to set her affairs in order, uncovering a family secret and making sure that the two girls are taken care of.

Written and directed by Ryota Nakano, “Her Love Boils Bathwater” is a poignant yet uplifting story about the value of kindness. There are as many moments to make you smile as to weep and it treads a delicate balance between sentimentality and realism. All of the characters are given a backstory, however small, and the script does a good job of weaving together various subplots into a coherent narrative. The entire cast do an admirable job of creating believable family dynamics. Rie Miyazawa is a caring and compassionate mother dealing with the shock of her sudden illness. Remaining strong for her children, while displaying an inner turmoil and sense of loss, the character of Futaba provokes real empathy and love for her determination. Hana Sugisaki shines as Azumi, dealing with her own problems at school and later taking on responsibilities for many of the other characters. She is a mirror to Miyazawa’s kindness and strong-willed nature, while also retaining an independent spirit. Out of all the characters she undergoes the greatest journey, from shy and awkward schoolgirl to a confident surrogate mother to her family. The rest of the cast are all excellent, particularly Aoi Ito as Ayuko, who does an incredible job with very emotionally challenging material. The direction of the film is good, allowing the actor’s performances to shine. There is interesting use of cut-aways, to the chimney of the bathhouse, which may also resemble a crematorium chimney, or blue skies with clouds floating by. Discussion of the afterlife in the film is minimal, largely revolving around one young character whose mother is deceased. Religious notions are largely superceded, explicitly at the end, by a more humanist philosophy amongst the characters, that the reality of everyday love and joy is something that should be cherished over a belief in heaven.

“Her Love Boils Bathwater” is a moving portrait about life and family set against the backdrop of an imminent death. This prognosis early in the film sets everything in context for the audience, although certain characters remain unaware of it until later. However, it is not a film that dwells on death so much as an examination of the joy of life. Although there are powerfully emotional scenes, there is also a lot of subtle humour and tender moments between mother and daughter or the two sisters that emphasize the idea that life is precious and each moment has the potential for joy. The film features several characters who are without a mother, though cared for by other characters. The importance of parental affection from those other than the biological parents is an important theme. This is generalized more widely into the notion of the paramount importance of kindness in society. Futaba’s relations with everyone she meets are typified by this more than anything, her ability to forgive, and her resolve to keep going through adversity. In the final section of the film we see this kindness repaid by those she has touched. An emotional film that is a celebration of the best of human nature, a plea for kindness in a world of misfortune.

Pumpkin and Mayonnaise (2017)

Pumpkin and Mayonnaise is a tense relationship drama about trust and infidelity with social commentary. Tsuchida (Asami Usuda) starts work at a hostess club to support her boyfriend Seiichi (Taiga) in his aspiration as a songwriter. After a client offers her a significant amount of money to accompany him to a hotel, she goes with him. The man asks her to undress and change into highschool swimsuit and increasing demands with the promise of money if she accepts. When Seiichi discovers the money he realises her job is something of this nature and the two argue, eventually leading to their relationship becoming unsustainable. Tsuchida meets and old admirer Hagio (Joe Odagiri) at a club and with Seiichi ignoring her she falls into a relationship with him. The film follows Tsuchida as she tries to navigate a seemingly impossible course of doing what is right and her emotions.

Asami Usuda is captivating as Tsuchida, garnering sympathy with a determined, fragile, confused character. While her actions may be unforgivable, they are always understandable in context. Likewise Taiga and Joe Odagiri give good performances. The story is based on a manga by Kiriko Nananan, with a screenplay by writer-director Masanori Tominaga. It is well-written with believable dialogue and dilemmas for everyone involved. Tomanaga employs some interesting techniques with regards the direction, with care paid to locations, and character positions within the scene. An example of this is the close-up of Tsuchida and Hagio together that creates a sense of claustrophobia, inescapable, comfortable, and brings you into Tsuchida’s world. Another is the scene of Tsuchida collapsing through fatigue in her apartment while we see an hourglass and a stack of money on the worksurface. This sort of visual film-making helps keep the film entertaining. The sound design also utilises silences well to bring home the weight of the drama. The film is only around ninety minutes which leaves you wanting more as it ends, in contrast to many other films that outstay their welcome. Almost every scene adds something and moves the story forward.

A film about breaking up that captures the heart-rending choices that people make both for themselves or loved ones. The characters seem to be following a pre-determined course, with their actions largely controlled by the pressures of duty or lack of money. Tsuchida’s journey is almost an archetypal tragedy, in that each step along the path is to a large extent predetermined by the initial choice. The finale of the film offers a measure of catharsis and the characters are left in a better position than they began, but as with life itself it is a tough journey to this realisation.

Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (2005)

shinobi heart under blade

1614, Japan. At a waterfall a young man and woman from rival warrior tribes, known as “Shinobi”, meet for the first time and fall in love. The Emperor, Ieyasu Tokugawa, has summoned the heads of the two tribes to his castle. Promising them sanctuary and a place beside him in the castle he decrees that their tribes must fight to the death. The two leaders return and select five fighters each. The two young lovers are both chosen to fight.

A forbidden love story reminiscent of traditional theatre the film begins with great swooping shots of the landscape and throughout looks fantastic with it’s highly stylised cinematography, set-design and costumes. Once the fighting begins the film is littered with slow-motion and CG which detracts a little from the story and makes it feel more like a video game adaptation. This is heightened by the fact each character has a special ability and multiple gravity- and logic-defying stunts put this firmly in the fantasy genre. However, towards the end the film has a couple of powerful scenes and the acting is good.

The story maintains the focus largely on the two leads, although other characters are brought on briefly as foils or to fight. Their story is moving, particularly in it’s resolution and in the exploration of love and loyalty. If you don’t go in expecting a realistic drama you might enjoy the camp action scenes and anime sensibilities of this film.