Adrift in Tokyo (転々, Satoshi Miki, 2007)

An aimless young man finds unexpected direction while walking the streets of the city with an unlikely father figure in Satoshi Miki’s meandering dramedy Adrift in Tokyo (転々, Tenten). These two men are indeed adrift in more ways than the literal, each without connections and seeking a concrete role in life while attempting to make peace with the past. But like any father and son there comes a time when they must part and their journey does indeed have a destination, one which it seems cannot be altered however much they might wish to delay it.

That Fumiya (Joe Odagiri) is aimless might be assumed from his unruly hair and the fact that he thinks tricolour toothpaste might be enough to jolt him out of his sense of despair but is confirmed by his matter of fact statement that he’s in his eighth year of university where nominally at least he’s studying law. His problem is that he’s amassed massive debts to a loanshark, Fukuhara (Tomokazu Miura), who breaks into his apartment and threatens him by shoving a sock in his mouth before leaving with his ID and driving licence. Fukuhara, however, later decides to make him another offer that he will cancel the debt and even give Fumiya even more money if only he will agree to wander around Tokyo with him for an unspecified time until they reach Kasumigaseki where he intends to hand himself in at police headquarters claiming to have recently murdered his wife. 

Like many things that Fukuhara says, it’s not clear whether or not he has indeed killed his wife though Miki frequently switches back to a scene of a woman who seems to have passed away and has been laid out in bed though she shows no signs of having died violently. Her zany co-workers keep thinking they should check on her seeing as she hasn’t shown up in days but something always distracts them and they end up forgetting about her entirely. The body appears to have been treated with love, hinting that if what Fukuhara says is true and this woman was his wife whom he killed in a fit of passion he has quite clearly thought through his plan of action rather than attempting to flee the scene and is perhaps only delaying the inevitable while walking out some other trauma in the company of Fumiya a surrogate son mirroring the description he gives of taking walks in the company first of his father and then of his wife. 

Fumiya deflects every question and agrees that he hates memories having burned his photo albums before leaving for university. He claims that he has no parents, describing the people who raised him as just that, as his mother and father both abandoned him as a child leaving him in a perpetual state of arrest which is one reason he’s still a student four years after most people have graduated. He never went to the zoo or rode a rollercoaster or called a man dad and seems to think of himself as nothing much of anything at all. Yet the fake can sometimes be more real than the real as he eventually discovers becoming part of an awkward family unit with Fukuhara’s “fake” wife (Kyoko Koizumi) he used to accompany to weddings as a paid guest, just beginning to enjoy being someone’s son when Fukuhara decides he’s reached the end of his road. 

There is a sense that everyone is chasing the ghost of someone else or perhaps even themselves, Fumiya finding shades of the father who abandoned him in career criminal Fukuhara who tells someone else that he once had a son who died in infancy, and seeing something of his mother in fake wife Makiko discovering transitory roots in an unlived imaginary childhood. But then there are also occasions of cosmic irony such as a coin locker bag being full not of money but of bright red daruma dolls and tengu noses, or a rebellious street musician meekly bowing to the police. A repeated gag says you’ll have good luck if you spot iconic actor Ittoku Kishibe out and about in the streets, and perhaps in a way Fumiya does in learning to make peace with his childhood self walking with Fukuhara who also comes to accept his failures as a man, a husband, and perhaps a father too. Filled with zany humour and a warmth underlying its melancholy, Adrift in Tokyo is a meandering journey towards a home in the self and a sense of rootedness in the middle of a sprawling metropolis filled with infinite possibility. 


Adrift in Tokyo is released on blu-ray in the UK on 12th December courtesy of Third Window Films.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

Akanezora: Beyond the Crimson Sky (あかね空, Masaki Hamamoto, 2007)

Akanezora - Beyond the Crimson Sky poster“It’s not all about tofu!” screams the heroine of Akanezora: Beyond the Crimson Sky (あかね空), a film which is all about tofu. Like tofu though, it has its own subtle flavour, gradually becoming richer by absorbing the spice of life. Based on a novel by Ichiriki Yamamoto, Akanezora is co-scripted by veteran of the Japanese New Wave, Masahiro Shinoda and directed by Masaki Hamamoto who had worked with Shinoda on Owl’s Castle and Spy Sorge prior to the director’s retirement in 2003. Like the majority of Shinoda’s work, Akanezora takes place in the past but echoes the future as it takes a sideways look at the nation’s most representative genre – the family drama. Fathers, sons, legacy and innovation come together in the story of a young man travelling from an old capital to a new one with a traditional craft he will have to make his own in order to succeed.

The story opens in the early 18th century when a couple stop to chat to a friend and, while they aren’t paying attention, their small son Shokichi wanders off after a doll show. Fastforward a decade or so and a young man, Eikichi (Masaaki Uchino), arrives from Kyoto intent on opening up a tofu shop in the capital. Enjoying the delicious local water, he runs into cheerful local girl, Ofumi (Miki Nakatani), who insists on helping him find his way around an unfamiliar city.

Ofumi proves invaluable in helping him set up his small neighbourhood store, but as skilled as Eikichi is, Kyoto tofu and Edo tofu are much more different than one might think. Eikichi’s tofu is smaller in size and fluffy where Edo tofu is larger yet solid, and though its flavour is superior, it does not suit the local taste or cuisine. Ofumi helps him out again, and once the shop is doing better the two marry. Flashforward another 18 years and the couple have three children, two sons and a daughter, but as successful as they are, they are no longer free of familial disharmony.

Strange coincidences are in play, such as Eikichi’s tofu making heritage lining up perfectly with that of a lonely couple, Oshino (Shima Iwashita) and Seibe (Renji Ishibashi), still grieving the loss of their little boy whose fate remains an open mystery. Though their son remains lost to them, Oshino and Seibe see something of the man he might have been in Eikichi who is also a practitioner of the trade they intended to pass on to him. Eikichi is a down to Earth southerner – naive, in one sense, yet honest, straighforward, kind and courteous. Though all agree his craftsmanship is first rate and his tofu excellently made, they privately advise he consider firming it up in keeping with local tastes. Eikichi is as stubborn as he is genial – he will not betray the “tradition” which has been passed down to him from his master and which he fully intends to hand down to his sons, purveyors of refined Kyoto tofu in fashionable Edo.

Thanks to Seibe’s generous patronage and Ofumi’s perseverance, Eikichi is a success but clashes with his eldest son and presumptive heir, Eitaro (Kohei Takeda), who resents his role as a kind of sales rep for his dad’s company. Following a volcanic eruption and subsequent poor harvest, grain prices are at a premium yet Eikichi, following the “Kyoto way”, refuses to raise prices, much to the consternation of fellow merchants who take out their displeasure on the young and impressionable Eitaro. One in particular launches a plan to ruin Eikichi’s tofu shop and gain access to the best of the city’s wells by befriending the lonely young son, getting him hooked on gambling and then bankrupting him with the help of local gangster boss Denzo (Masaaki Uchino).

Eikichi’s tofu, as someone later puts it, prospered not only because of his hard work and dedication, but because it was made with the heart. His overwhelming dedication to his craft might seem to blunt his dedication to those he loves but he cares deeply about his wife and children even if his “straightforward” character means he has a funny way of showing it. A running joke circles around Eikichi’s country bumpkin Kyoto accent and though the culture clash goes further than debating the proper texture of tofu, he finds himself a home thanks to the kindness of strangers. Akanezora, like Eikichi’s tofu, proves a little too spongy, its narrative connections too subtle in flavour to make much of an impact when fed only with Hamamoto’s serviceable if plain visuals, the unexpectedly chirpy performance of Miki Nakatani as the energetic Ofumi, and Masaaki Uchino’s impressive double duty as the earnest Eikichi and omnipotent Denzo. Tragedy breaks one family only to bring another back together, somehow restoring a once broken cycle yet even if Akanezora’s rosy skies suggest a resurgent warmth, it isn’t quite enough to solidify its otherwise watery brew.


Screened as part of the Japan Foundation Summer Explorers 3 season dedicated to films about food.