Kazuma SuzukiTomorowo TaguchiKou ShibasakiMami Nakamura
Tokyo Trash Baby
Medium: film
Year: 2000
Director: Ryuichi Hiroki
Writer: Shotaro Oikawa
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Actor: Mami Nakamura, Kazuma Suzuki, Kou Shibasaki, Sayuri Oyamada, Tomorowo Taguchi, Masahiro Toda
Format: 88 minutes
Url: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0269969/
Website category: Japanese
Review date: 10 September 2010
Brilliant title, eh? The only problem is that if anything it's too brilliant, which might lead to inappropriate expectations and hence disappointment at the lack of sleaze and schlock.
In fact it's a low-key character study, shot on digital video for almost no money. I'd assumed it was an amateur film. For laughs I acted in one of those while I was living in Japan and it looked and sounded just like this. There's something almost aggressive about the minimalist post-processing on the soundtrack, for instance. Go out on the streets of Tokyo with a microphone and that's what you'll hear. Well, at least it's giving verisimilitude. You can't accuse this film of not showing you the real world. Similarly the hand-held camerawork occasionally seemed to be drawing attention to itself, as when our protagonist goes running off down the street and the cameraman's chasing her.
Hmmmm. Maybe it is. That would work thematically.
I was wrong, incidentally. This isn't an amateur film, or even the work of ambitious wannabes. Ryuichi Hiroki has been directing movies since the early eighties and has won international film festival awards, such as for his films It's Only Talk (2005) and Vibrator (2003). (The latter isn't what you're thinking.) Similarly his cast are actors with downright impressive careers, whom you can see in a great swathe of regular movies like Battle Royale, Tomie, Japan Sinks, etc. The talent that went into making this film is in no way reflected in the visual quality of the film they've produced... but there's a reason for that.
It's the first Love Cinema movie. These were a series of Japanese straight-to-video films by CineRocket, commissioned as an exercise in low-budget digital filmmaking. There are six of them. One of them is Takashi Miike's Visitor Q, if that gives you any idea. In other words, this film deserves a higher level of critical attention than you might think at first glance.
The plot... no, that's not the right word. This isn't a plot movie. It's showing us the life of our Tokyo Trash Baby, played by Mami Nakamura. She's a stalker. She works as a waitress at a local cafe, but when she's not working, she's spying on her upstairs neighbour by going through his garbage. Her apartment is a shrine to rubbish. She attaches his old cereal boxes on the wall. She reads his discarded letters and gets excited when she finds things like trousers or photographs. Sometimes she'll find porn or a used condom. If she were male she'd be terrifying, but as it is she's just weird and uninterested in relating to people. The big question of course is to what extent she's actually fixated on the man himself, as opposed to the fantasy in her head or even the actual rubbish. You know, the used cigarettes and soap packets. The end of the movie in particular doesn't make sense unless you've realised that to some extent, her most important relationship has always been with the garbage.
It's something of a Rorschach film, actually. I've seen all kinds of interpretations of what it means, which to me seem nuts. Is it a knowing critique of modern consumer culture? Is it about our heroine's quest for love? Is she trying to find meaning in her life? Personally I wouldn't have suggested any of those, but I can see how someone might find such a connection as we follow Nakamura's strange existence. It's arbitrary, it doesn't really make much sense and it's kind of fascinating.
What's more, the film's full of stalkers and people with inappropriate or unhealthy sexual feelings. Nakamura's stalkee (Kazuma Suzuki) is a guitarist in a band and is always bringing home a new girl. Her boss is a paedophile. (He randomly admits it in conversation. "You're ill." "I know.") Her co-worker claims to sleep with a new man every night. Nakamura even has a stalker of her own, a nerdish salaryman who's a regular at the cafe and keeps asking her out. However the only character who actually gets called a stalker is a nice, polite ex-girlfriend of Suzuki's who's merely writing him letters, albeit quite a lot of them.
Then there's us, the audience. We never leave Nakamura's side. We're her most faithful stalkers of all, as might perhaps be being made explicit through the hand-held camerawork. I don't think the film's trying to make anything so concrete as a statement there, but instead it's another of those Rorschach elements I was talking about.
This is an odd, slightly haunting movie. It looks amateurish... or to put it another way, someone accustomed to glossy Hollywood fare would say it looks like trash. Hmmm. You could go nuts talking about this one. People keep talking gibberish about it, but for all I know that includes me. Personally I suspect that it's a faithful portrayal of real-life stalkers, not the dangerous ones who get in the news but the quiet ones who have all kinds of peculiar notions in their heads and just go about their odd lives without ever being a danger to anyone. Living with her for an hour and a half is a hypnotic, slightly uncomfortable experience that almost doesn't feel like a movie.
It's a slow film. It doesn't have action scenes or anything. Nakamura collects her garbage and that's usually it. However it does occasionally have some nice music from Suzuki and it's not so low-profile that it hasn't been released on DVD in the West. Minoru Kawasaki's films should be so lucky. If nothing else, it's far more engaging and watchable than you'd expect from the fact that it's basically the story of a freak with no life. Ryuichi Hiroki isn't in any way trying to make his characters likeable, but somehow I kind of liked them anyway. It's an interesting film. I think I'd even go so far as to call it good.
The original Japanese title is plainer and blunter, incidentally. I prefer the English one.