Film: Miki Satoshi Collection
UK Release date: 27th February 2012
UK Distributor: Third Window Films
Director: Miki Satoshi
Starring: Odagiri Jo, Kyoko Koizumi, Ueno Juri, Asi Kimiko, Ryo Kase
Running time: 381 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
The title says it all really. The ‘Miki Satoshi Collection’ is in fact a collection of famed Japanese director Miki Satoshi’s three best works, available together for the first time courtesy of Third Window Films. Born on Aug. 9, 1961 at Kanagawa Prefecture, Satoshi started out as a writer for hit TV variety shows, some of which are legendary in Japan. He then began directing stages and has since expanded into TV dramas and film. The box set includes Adrift in Tokyo starring Odagiri Joe and Kyoko Koizumi, Instant Swamp starring Aso Kumiko and Ryo Kase, and Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers starring Ueno Juri and Aoi Yu.
Adrift in Tokyo (2007): Up to now, Fumiya’s life has been anything but extraordinary. A university student for the past eight years, his life is going nowhere fast, but all’s about to change the day he meets Fukuhara. Fumiya owes money to loan sharks and one day; a man called Fukuhara turns up to collect the repayments. Unsurprisingly, Fumiya can’t afford to pay the loan back so Fukuhara makes a proposition. He will cancel the debt as long as Fumiya agrees to walk with him across Tokyo to the police station of Kasumigaseki, where he plans to turn himself in for a crime he deeply regrets.
Adrift in Tokyo is a road movie with a difference, unique in the fact that our characters spend most of their time on the sidewalks of life. What might sound painfully dull on paper proves in fact to be one of the most engaging films in years. The relationship that forms is key to Adrift in Tokyo’s success, and without that believability the film just wouldn’t work. It’s not just the films protagonists that lack direction, look a little closer and you’ll discover why Satoshi chose to call his movie Adrift in Tokyo. The final act is incredibly rewarding - both touching and beautifully realised. Adrift in Tokyo is a poignant roller coaster ride of genuine emotion, full of ups and downs and somewhat fittingly, an all too abrupt ending.
Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (2005): Films don't come much quirkier than this. A bored housewife called Suzume (Juri Ueno) is getting fed up with her dull, ordinary existence. The only thing she has to do each day is feed the family pet - that would be the turtle of the title then. Her husband (away on business) phones her up every day to ensure that she’s doing it right. When she finds a tiny advertisement for employment as a spy, she quite literally jumps at the chance of a little excitement in her life - avoiding the contents of an apple cart in the process.
The set up is unique and performances are excellent; in fact it's the characters that keep the film afloat for much of the running time. Juri Ueno is outstanding in the lead role; her performance is humorous, likeable and deeply infectious. Satoshi’s direction is also worthy of note, he keeps things moving with inventive camera work and fresh ideas filling every frame. It's well written too, some of the exchanges are highly amusing and the film has a very likeable sheen to it. That's not to say it’s perfect though. ‘Turtles’ has at its heart a great concept but in truth, very little happens throughout. There are flashbacks, comedy interludes and witty exchanges aplenty, but the plot is wafer thin. The ‘being ordinary’ message falters here because though it sounds like a neat concept on paper, in reality it means that very little happens. The performances, the humour, the direction, they’re all first rate. It's just a shame that the film is so shallow, a flaw you can also assign - in some ways - to Instant Swamp. ‘Turtles’ remains a sweet, comical and entertaining diversion but it fails to capitalise on its intriguing premise and excellent performances. Sometimes quirky for the sake of being quirky just isn't enough.
Instant Swamp (2009): Falling somewhere in-between is Miki Satoshi’s Instant Swamp. Haname (Kumiko Aso) is a lively young journalist blessed with an exceedingly vivid imaginative working for a woman's magazine on the brink of bankruptcy. Her daily diet of ‘gloopy’ health drinks aren't enough to shield her from what she describes as ‘gradual erosion’, which all began on her eighth birthday when her father stormed out of the house. Not only did he abandon her, but he also threw all of her toys into a swamp, including a cat talisman which she believes may have been cursed. Haname sets out on a journey, a quest that reacquaints her with her father (Morio Kazama), now a hippie working at a junk shop going under the name of 'Light Bulb', and brings her into contact with the most rational punk rocker ever to walk the earth (Ryo Kase).
An entertaining monologue sets the scene, telling us all we need to know about Haname in the space of a few short minutes. Instant Swamp is probably the funniest of the three films presented here, but in being so, it doesn’t quite reach the dramatic heights of Adrift in Tokyo. Similar in style to the work of Tetsuya Nakashima, Instant Swamp is a lightweight romp about seeing the unbelievable. It embodies the same charm embraced by all three features but doesn’t come close to the poignancy possessed by Satoshi’s finest work. The plot is slight but unlike ‘Turtles’, there is less room for development and more time for wholesome fun. Instant Swamp brings with it a wonderful assortment of characters, which we’ve come to expect from Satoshi by now, and an offbeat charm that radiates through. It feels a little drawn out at times but the ending is sublime, a fantastical finale to an inventive night in.
If Satoshi continues to mix oddball characters, quirky humour and irresistible charm like this, we’ll all be waiting in line. Adrift in Tokyo is undoubtedly his best work, but the other two films are almost as worthy. Miki Satoshi is an undeniable talent, make no mistake about it, and there’s never been a better time to discover his back catalogue.