Please note that this review of Adrift in Tokyo (2007) and brief retrospective of the films of Miki Satoshi may feature the use of some question marks and some exclamation marks, although we hasten to inform readers that no cats were involved in the implementation of any aspects of punctuation. It will aid your understanding if you have already seen In The Pool (2004).
Fumiya (Odagiri Joe) has a debt problem, normally an issue that threatens violent reprisals from loan sharks but here he has the opportunity to avoid such potentially dire physical ramifications and even earn a little extra cash. In order to prevent a brutal outcome he has to walk across Tokyo with Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura). That’s it. Fumiya hasn’t really got anything better to do with himself (well to him at least) so the pair set out and even begin – slowly – to form a friendship. On their journey across the vast and varying city they encounter both strangers and friends but the trip is destined to be temporary. Fukuhara’s ultimate destination is that of a particular police constabulary.
Adrift in Tokyo follows its main two characters (and an increasingly strange and unusual bunch of acquaintances) as they come to terms not only with their present predicaments but also address their past lives, their relationships and the locations they find themselves pacing through. Although debt is the apparent driver for Fumiya, it is a Macguffin. The real heart of the film lies with the journey, chance encounters or potential hazards that they come across along the way coupled, of course, with the need for nourishment – food has an important role in this film. The events that occur are either random or developmental; sometimes the pair experience them together and sometimes separately. A quick encounter that may require basketball skills are a shade unusual but not perhaps as unusual as crashing a cosplay party. Add it all together and the result is a thoroughly watchable indie road-movie – with minimal driving. Its construction is paced at a level that matches the indeterminate length of the walk Fumiya finds himself forcibly engaged in, not entirely certain of the direction, either personally or geographically. Like much of Miki’s oeuvre it features plenty of situational and comedy elements. Often laughably amusing they rarely resort to extreme levels of slapstick but are rather filled with surreal takes on the absurdity of life that establishes the comedy as frequently evolving and surprisingly revealing.
Miki acknowledges that the inspiration for his style of comedy comes in part from the work of Monty Python (from an interview given at the recent East Winds Film Festival), where you can see the everyday lunacy of life placed in amusing extremity. Much of his pre-feature film work was in television comedy, notably the crazy antics of popular manzai (a popular comedy duo style of stand-up) Matsumoto Hitoshi and Hamada Masatoshi, known as Downtown. Miki’s first feature film, In the Pool (2004), is based upon the novel by Hideo Okuda and, as Miki admits, is heavily revised beyond the basic concept in his screenplay. It’s a hilarious yet underplayed comedy that focuses on psychological conditions and the – somewhat unorthodox – cures thereof. In this instance the term ‘practice’ really is key to the term ‘medical practice’, especially if there are cool conditions to brag about in front of students, or money and publicity to gain from research! (No cats were involved in production of that exclamation mark.) Tetsuya (Odagiri Joe) has a distinct problem that many might not initially find to be that problematic, at least in principle, but it causes him much trouble emotionally. He has a constantly erect (and amusingly censored from camera to enhance the comedy of his situation) penis. The situation is not really helped by his medical team, led by the eccentric Dr Irabu (Suzuki Matsuo), whose apparently thoughtful attempts at a cure don’t really help, especially when he tries to boost his patient’s confidence at the length of his condition by announcing him as new super-hero Erectoman. Further psychological problems concern obsessive compulsive girl who can’t leave the house without checking that every appliance has been switched off and a salaryman who has become obsessed with swimming. The result is consistently enjoyable if occasionally, and amusingly, naughty.
The following year saw Miki direct Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (2005) which explores the absurdities of everyday life and makes them more engaging by placing characters in idiosyncratic situations while still allowing them to try and maintain a position of normality even when the circumstances become increasingly absurd, although perhaps only to the viewer! Suzume (Juri Ueno) seems to be devoted to her partner who is currently absent abroad. She is especially conscientious about making sure the turtle is well cared for. But she’s finding life boring. Incredibly dull, in fact. So when she spots a flyer-advertised position on a stairway to join a spy organisation this seems to be the ideal opportunity to escape from the drudgery of domestic life. If the job interesting and available, it’s hers. Instant Swamp (2009) tells the story of Haname Jinchoge who has just lost her job. She has also recently discovered her real father, who runs an antiques shop selling oddities and miscellany so she goes to find him. Papa is a very eccentric character and has a variety of unusual habits such as running the taps whenever he has a task to do, to see if he can complete it before the water overflows. His laid back attitude inspires Haname to start her own business and he leaves her with a mucky mystery to solve. Both films feature characters who are seeking to escape from their mundane existences and, in the main, they succeed in their aspirations, even if the end results are not entirely what they had expected.
Definitely a figure to watch for his idiosyncratic comic excursions into characters and culture that are both thoroughly engaging and constantly entertaining, Miki Satoshi’s films don’t offer huge budgets or massive publicity but instead provide a whole bunch of quirky fun, with a bit of social relevance too! (Sorry, that was the cat…)