November 29, 2023 – Following the daily routine of a Tokyo toilet cleaner for a few days might seem a bit repetitious. However, when a game of tic-tac-toe is one of the movie's highlights, you know you are in for some serious art film excess, even in a Wim Wenders (“Wings of Desire”) movie.
The main character, Hirayama (played by Kôji Yakusho of “13 Assassins”) seems quite content with his highly structured life. He shows up for work every day at the same time, following his rigid morning routine. He eats lunch every day at the same time in the same place. He wears coveralls featuring the words “Tokyo Toilet,” in large English letters. He talks only when he really has to.
Hirayama daily goes to a restaurant where the cook has his dinner ready when he arrives, because he knows exactly what he is going to eat and when he is going to show up. The same goes for his visits to the local bar, the local bath house and the local laundromat. He reads books at night and takes artistic pictures of his favorite tree at noon. He listens to cassette tapes from the 1970s.
He scrubs toilets for a living, but he takes pride in the job and he does it well, especially compared to his young fellow toilet scrubber, Takashi (played by Tokio Emoto of “Blue”) whose punctuality and work habits are as haphazard as his personal life. Takashi's love affair with Aya (Aoi Yamada) is going nowhere fast, but he imposes on Hirayama to give him and Aya a ride. Takashi also borrows money from Hirayama for a date with Aya, and then leaves him to cover his shift, which greatly disturbs Hirayama.
Hirayama also gets another big surprise when his niece Niko (Arisa Nakano) shows up unexpectedly to visit. Hirayama finds her good company, but finally calls Niko's mother, when he finds out Niko has run away from home. His sister shows up to take Niko back home and this brings up a lot of bad memories about his unhappy childhood.
Next, he finds his favorite bar closed (where the woman bartender, played by Sayuri Ishikawa, sings a killer Japanese version of “The House of the Rising Sun” earlier in the film). It turns out that the bar is closed because the bartender's ex-husband has come to visit. Later, the ex-husband, who is dying, visits Hirayama and asks him to take care of his ex-wife. That is something that Hirayama is not willing to do.
On the surface, Hirayama seems like a placid, perhaps serene, man, with a well-ordered life. Gradually, however, we learn about some demons from his past which may be influencing his current life choices. Maybe he is hiding from his past. There are definitely hints of this in the movie.
Kôji Yakusho gives a fine performance in this film, and is ably supported by the other actors. This is an effective film as far as it goes, but it hints at more content than it actually presents, and the film's pace is awfully slow. These are common problems in many art films. You can either embrace this, or suffer through it. I thought it was just too much in the way of art film excess. This film rates a B.
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