Adrift in Tokyo (2007)

He may sport a quiff that would be the envy of the Leningrad Cowboys, and be drifting through a law degree with all the fey shiftlessness of a slacker hero, but when we first meet him, Takemura (Odagiri Jo) is obviously down on his luck – not least because he is having another man’s sock forced deep into his mouth. Takemura owes 840,000 yen, and middle-aged debt collector Fukuhara (Miura Tomokazu) has come to intimidate the feckless student into paying back the money within three days. “Don’t run,” Fukuhara warns him, “It’s useless.”

Indeed there will not be any running in Adrift In Tokyo (Tenten) – or driving for that matter, even though this is definitely a road movie of sorts. For after accidentally killing his wife in a rage and so incurring a (moral) debt of his own that he knows must eventually be repaid, Fukuhara approaches Takemura with a new proposal: if the student will accompany him on a walking tour of Tokyo, with a fixed destination (the police station at Kasumigaseki) but no set time limit, Takemura’s debts will be cleared and he will receive a further million yen in cash. And so this odd couple sets off on foot on their trip down memory lane and along the road to redemption, taking in the ‘varied scenery’ of Tokyo along the way – as well as some of the city’s more eccentric denizens, from a trio of elderly masturbating builders to a luck-bringing actor, a karate-kicking clock merchant, a locker-robbing geriatric superhero, an unhygienic outsider artist, a mobile hard-rocking musician, and finally Fukuhara’s ‘fake’ family. In the meantime, the co-workers of Fukuhara’s wife keep getting distracted by trivialities – or is it destiny? – from discovering her fate.

“Long story but not much meat,” is Takemura’s pithy response to the explanation given by Fukuhara for having a pseudonym (Fukuhara was once hired to pose as a fake relative at a wedding). The same accusation might be laid before Adrift In Tokyo itself, which takes a long and winding route through its many apparently unrelated incidents and arbitrary encounters, flashbacks and fantasies. For it often seems that writer/director Miki Satoshi is falling back on his characteristic whimsy (typified in his quirkfests Turtles Swim Faster Than Expected, The Insects Unlisted in the Encyclopaedia, and the recent Instant Swamp) in place of any surer sense of direction. Watch (and listen) closely, though, and there is definitely method to be found in all the meandering madness, as these disparate episodes collectively chart a rich thematic street guide to luck and loneliness, karma and transformation.

A key motif in the film is the quest for (new) identity, reflected in the central sequence at a cosplay event (where participants use elaborate guises to live out their fantasies). Similarly, where Fukuhara is on a wistful farewell tour of the places he formerly haunted with his wife in their childless marriage, retracing what had been and might have been, Takemura (who was abandoned by his parents at a very young age) is in search of the childhood he never had. These two lost souls may be attempting to settle their accounts and wipe the slate clean, but their autumnal excursion through Tokyo’s changing landscape will eventually see them staying with Fukuhara’s fake wife Makiko (Koizumo Kyoko) and her niece Fufumi (Yoshitaka Yuriko), where they will briefly get to play at being the father and son they would both have liked to be – much as Fukuhara’s real wife, before her untimely demise, had been  straying from her marriage in an attempt to become, as Fukuhara puts it, “a different person in search of herself”. In fact all these characters are involved in a form of cosplay, trying on rôles for themselves to work out where they want to go.

Miki’s film explores the psychic landscape of a modern city, while dramatising, with its Dharma dolls and general karmic convolutions, all manner of Buddhist wisdoms en route, and dressing itself in the attractive guise of deadpan absurdity. Keep watching through the closing credits for a wonderfully offbeat coda.

© Anton Bitel