24 May 2009 | howard.schumann
Charming, at times surreal, and often very touching
After a burly debt collector, Aiichiro Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura) rams a sock down the throat of a college student while telling him that he has to pay his debt of 840,000 yen in three days or else, the last thing you expect from Satoshi Miki's Adrift in Tokyo is an offbeat and very funny comedy. Yet, in this 2007 film now getting its first release, Miki manages to pull it off and does so with considerable aplomb. A charming, at times surreal, and often very touching film, Adrift in Tokyo provides the viewer with a rare glimpse of some of the lovely back streets, shops, and shrines of Tokyo that tourists never see while creating characters that are believable and have the capacity for growth.
Abandoned by his natural parents when he was three years old, Fumiya Takemura (Jo Odagiri) is now in his eighth year of school and presumably is studying law, yet he seems to lack ambition and has no plans for the future. Miki does not tell us how he managed to amass a debt of almost $9,000 in U.S. funds but gambling is suspected since student loans are not usually collected with sock in mouth. Surprisingly, a restrained Fukuhara, who is holding Fumiya's ID and Driver's License as collateral, returns a few days later with a proposition. He will give the young man one million yen if he will walk with him across Tokyo to the Kasumigaseki district of Tokyo.
Telling him that the walk could take a few days or even a month, Fumiya does not know what to think about the offer, but not having a great many other options, he shows up the next day at the appointed place to begin their walk. Later Fumiya learns that the debt collector is planning to turn himself in to the police for the murder of his wife (which he claims was accidental) and is choosing Kasumigaseki because their police station is the best. As they begin their walk, they also begin talking and sharing their past and each character is revealed to be surprisingly sensitive and vulnerable. Meeting some bizarre characters along the way, Fukuhara revisits some of the places he visited with his wife in better days, a Shinto shrine, a favorite desert café, and a bus ride on Sunday night which he calls "the loneliest bus ride in the world." Fumiya also begins to share his thoughts and feelings, especially his loneliness in not sharing typical family outings such as going to the zoo or riding on a roller coaster. The two visit the site of his family home which is now a vacant lot and Fumiya recalls incidents from his school days like his first kiss, trying to pass off an ordinary polo shirt as a designer gift, and being paid a "fee" by a married woman for an affair that never quite came off. One of the funniest subplots involves three fellow workers of Fukuhara's wife and their half hearted attempt to find out why she has been absent from work. When they go to her house to see what has happened to her, they are caught in the middle of a film shoot and are recruited to join the cast as extras.
The final act introduces more odd characters such as Fukuhara's friend Makiko (Kyoko Koizumi) and her very strange niece Fufumi (Yuriko Yoshitaka) who is addicted to mayonnaise. Fukuhara pretends that Fumiya is his son and the warmth of the family provides a sharp contrast to Fumiya's life of isolation. Adrift in Tokyo is about small things – sharing, making connections with the world around us, simply walking and talking. Reinforced by the music of Maurice Ravel, especially Ravel's haunting Pavane pour une Infant défunte, both characters grow in ways that did not seem possible at the beginning of the film. Fumiya begins to express more emotion, and Fukuhara, in an understated way, provides emotional strength for the younger man, reminding us that happiness can often lie in moments of simple pleasure.