The past catches up with the present during a week-long walking tour of Tokyo
“Happiness creeps into you so quietly that you don’t notice, but misfortune arrives very abruptly.”
Tokyo, and its surrounding metropolitan area, is one of the most populous places in the world. It is a nonstop melange of styles and tastes, of work and play, and crammed to capacity with people from all walks of life. When you think of Tokyo, you maybe picture the nightclub scene in Roppongi, the blinding lights of Shinjuku or the endless shops and otaku culture in Akihabara. Tokyo is a wild place, so it’s natural to get caught up in all the excitement. But let’s slow down a bit. Let’s take a walk through all the little areas of Tokyo, the quiet parts where you can reflect upon your life. That’s the basis for the film Adrift in Tokyo.
The movie focuses on lazy law student Fumiya (Joe Odagiri), who is currently in debt to loan sharks. Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura) is a debt collector, who comes to warn Fumiya that he has only a few days left. When Fumiya tells him he cannot pay, Fukuhara proposes an idea: he will give Fumiya enough money to pay the debt (plus change) in exchange for his company as he takes walks through Tokyo. Fukuhara reveals that he wishes to give himself up at the Kasumigaseki police station, after having committed a crime he regrets.
With no indication on how long the walk will take, Fumiya agree, and the two begin their slow journey through Tokyo. Along the way, the two discuss their pasts, and run across figures from their lives including some childhood friends, a woman Fukuhara pretended to be married to once (Kyoko Koizumi) and her niece Fufumi (Yuriko Yoshitaka), who they stay with for a couple of days.
It’s difficult to get too deep into the plot of this, mainly because there isn’t one. Most of the movie features Fuyima and Fukuhara walking and talking. Sometimes they eat, other times they’re shacking up in some low-cost hotel somewhere. The main story: where Fumiya agrees to walk with Fukuhara in order to even a loan, more or less only exists in order to have our two main characters talk and learn from one another. These are characters who don’t know each other at all at the start: much like the audience, and they get to know one another at the same rate as we do, which allows everyone – both characters and audience – to be on the same page. When Fumiya begins to be bummed out that his new friend will inevitably turn himself into the cops, we too feel that same sadness.
Based on the novel by Yoshinaga Fujita, Satoshi Miki’s movie relies entirely on empathy and sympathy. There’s no action or life-or-death situations; the moments of drama and comedy come from the two men talking about, and sometimes even revisiting their lives in the past. Whenever it looks like some serious drama might happen (at first it seems as if Fumiya once slept with Fukuhara’s wife, but it turns out to not be the case), it gets resolved quietly, and realistically. And there’s something commendable there, that it never resorts to cheap thrills to keep us in our seats. Maybe this won’t be to everyone’s tastes, sometimes it feels a bit slow, but the film moves along as its own relaxed pace. The movie’s Japanese title – tenten – refers to the act of being passed around repeatedly, or always moving around, and that’s about as succinct a summary of the film, and its themes, as you can get.
Maybe that earlier use of “realistically” was a bit much, though. Similar to films like Fine, Totally Fine, Adrift in Tokyo has a weird surrealism that serves to heighten the more human parts of the movie. The two of them often find themselves in weird situations, or in the presence of oddballs: they attend a cosplay party where an old man dressed as a masked rider steals towels from a locker and then jumps a dozen storeys to escape; they are confronted by an easily insulted watch seller who chases them down and kicks the crap out of Fukuhara; Fumiya follows a quirky electric guitar player through the streets. Adrift in Tokyo is filled with strange little encounters and oddities that will be familiar to anyone who’s spent time in the city, just observing the people.
Miki’s directorial style is perfect for the story, and he brilliantly uses all parts of Tokyo to tell his story, from quiet suburbia to the chaotic city centres. He uses the full spectrum of light and colour too, which help distinguish the different wards the characters visit, and emphasise the moments they’re in. A cool-coloured residential area is perfect for remembering a childhood, a dynamic Shinjuku at night is definitely the right setting for a cosplay party.
The two leads share an effortless charm and have great, slow-burning chemistry. They really sell their budding friendship and it leaves an impact when the two inevitably have to part ways. Both are a bit tough to like right at the beginning, but as they start to like one another, so do you. The side cast, which involves three office workers of Fukuhara’s wife in their own goofy subplot, are all a delight to watch, bringing in their own quirks to the story. Ittoku Kishibe plays himself in a cameo, and Fumiya claims that seeing him is good luck. It’s a dumb little moment, but he’s not wrong. From that point on, the film becomes a gentle, funny and often quite touching comedy. Equal parts comical and dramatic, Adrift in Tokyo is just right if you want to get away for a bit.
Verdict: Surprisingly soft, yet also very funny Adrift in Tokyo hits all the right beats
The Asian Cinema Critic’s Patented Ratings System
Overall Entertainment: 9 /10
Stray cat sounds: Everywhere
Recommended meal before going to jail: Curry
Adrift in Tokyo (2007)
Also known as: 転々 (tenten)
Director: Satoshi Miki
Writer: Satoshi Miki, Yoshinaga Fujita
Joe Odagiri – Fumiya Takemura
Tomokazu Miura – Aiichiro Fukuhara
Kyoko Koizumi – Makiko
Yuriko Yoshitaka – Fufumi
Eri Fuse – Mrs Sendai
Ryo Iwamatsu – Mr Kunimatsu
Yutaka Matsushige – Mr Tomobe
Reona Hirota – Kaburagi
Ittoku Kishibe – Himself
Sanae Miyata – Fukuhara’s Wife
Takashi Tsumura – Watch Shop Owner
Takashi Sasano – Tatami Shop Owner
Akio Yokoyama – Masked Cosplayer
Maya Murasaki – Naomi