By Lee Hyo-won
Last November, Japanese heartthrob Joe Odagiri
("Tokyo Tower") caused a traffic jam in Seoul as local fans flocked from one theater to another to catch a glimpse of him. Before the Oct. 9 release of his South Korean film debut, Kim Ki-duk
, he visits the big screen through the brilliantly manic film, "Adrift in Tokyo".
Odagiri can, in Hollywood parlance, be compared to Johnny Depp with his mass appeal despite (or perhaps because of) his eccentric outfits and unusual roles in independent or experimental genres. "Adrift" is no exception, and the unshaven actor sports wild curls that make him look like an aging Elvis who has just rolled out of bed. Joining him is the veteran actor Tomokazu Miura ("The Taste of Tea").
Odagiri and Miura play roles they could easily have done with their eyes closed, but bring that magical combination of tragedy and comedy, calamity and zaniness. Takemura (Odagiri) is a lonesome orphan who, after eight years in college, is still unable to graduate. He studies law but has no idea what he wants to do with his life and to make matters worse he has an enormous debt to pay off. The prickly debt collector Fukuhara (Miura) terrorizes him in the middle of the night and gives him an ultimatum: he must prepare 840,000 yen (around 8.4 million won) in four days or face painful consequences.
Takemura can't think of anything better than to hit the pachinko parlor. But just before the deadline, Fukuhara comes back to make an unbelievable offer: take a walk with him through Tokyo and he will give him 1 million yen. Takemura, puzzled yet in no position to argue, accepts, and so begins the promenade of their lifetime.
Director Satoshi Miki, the creative brain of hit Japanese TV programs and comedy movies, displays his signature style of placing quirky characters in unusual situations. "Adrift" is essentially a male bonding road movie, with two characters that start off as strangers, but meandering paths leading to unforeseen places in Tokyo ― and the heart.
The film is woven together like snapshots of scenic, wacky and quotidian scenes as it walks the audience to different corners of the city. They travel to a temple where Fukuhara and his wife shared their first kiss and a jelly dessert shop they'd visit after a fight; end up at a "cosplay"-themed nightclub (where you "costume-play" or dress up like animation and cartoon characters) to track down Takemura's childhood sweetheart; stop at an amusement park; and roll in a pile of trash.
One is never sure what will happen next throughout the movie. "Adrift" is, however, far from fragmented and is marked by an overarching conception of the narrative as a whole. The movie may be about an orphan who has never felt true familial love meeting a middle-aged man who journeys through his memories, but it is surprisingly unsentimental. The tragicomic drama is subtle and the emotions are restrained, but something warm seeps into the heart steadily and unexpectedly. It might inspire you to stroll aimlessly and discover the beauty of small things passed by unnoticed.
In theaters Sept. 11 under the title "Tenten". 101 minutes. 12 and over. In Japanese with Korean subtitles. Distributed by Sponge.