Adrift in Tokyo

Original title
Japanese title
  • 転々
Running time
101 minutes
22 September 2008
Adrift in Tokyo Adrift in Tokyo Adrift in Tokyo


Satoshi Miki's Adrift in Tokyo is a difficult film to categorize. Is it a road movie? A city film? A buddy movie? A comedy? A drama? The short answer is: yes. It's each of these things, and when put together, it becomes something substantially greater than the sum of its parts. Miki has managed to craft something touching, hilarious, informative, and brimming with a subdued sense of adventure that one can only get from exploring a seemingly familiar city with a fresh perspective.

The film (more or less) follows the perpetually blank-faced Fumiya (Joe Odagiri), an eighth-year law student who has managed to rack up over 800,000 yen in debt and naturally has no way of paying it back. While sitting in his apartment contemplating the finer points of three-color toothpaste, Fumiya is assaulted by ruthless-looking debt collector Fukuhara (a mullet-wielding Tomokazu Miura), who gives him three days to pay back the cash. The days pass and Fumiya makes a series of characteristically half-assed attempts to raise the money, but gets nowhere. Ready to give up, he's approached once more by Fukuhara, who surprisingly says he will pay a total of one million yen if Fumiya accompanies him on a walk around Tokyo. It might take days, weeks, or months, he says, but after they're finished his debt will disappear. Having no choice, Fumiya accepts the offer and the film kicks into gear.

As we follow the two through the streets of the city, their lives unfold by way of conversations, squabbles, confessions, and the occasional shouting match. We discover that Fumiya was abandoned by his parents as a young child, leaving him without a soul to depend on. With this revelation Miki subtly transforms Fumiya's attitude of blank detachment from a comic device into something deeper, while still keeping the atmosphere light. And we learn that Fukuhara, the strangely sensitive thug, has killed his wife. He plans to wander the streets of his city, rediscovering old memories and creating new ones, before turning himself in to the police and resigning himself to prison. This kind of multi-layered emotional content is typical for the film, and it's not unusual for any given scene to first lift, then break your spirits as each of the characters unfurls into an actual multidimensional human being. It takes a delicate hand to strike such a perfect balance of humor and (I hesitate to even call it this) drama, but Miki has succeeded brilliantly. It's completely possible to see Adrift in Tokyo as nothing more than a breezy comedy, full of first-rate performances and hilarious gags, but the viewer who digs past the surface will be rewarded with something surprisingly touching, and undeniably beautiful.

Speaking of gags, Miki's particular brand of out-of-left-field humor runs steadily throughout the film, and there are plenty of moments that might confuse a viewer searching for clear-cut linearity beneath the lingering narrative. But if it starts to seem like he's losing track of his characters, try to remember that the city itself is being developed just as much as Fumiya or Fukuhara. For example, consider the seemingly unnecessary subplot involving Fukuhara's wife's coworkers, and their trek across the city. Whenever these characters take center stage, every ounce of a typical viewer's narrative training suggests that Miki is building toward some concrete connection-a bridge with the central characters that is just never going to form. It's normal for loose ends such as these to cause frustration, but perhaps things aren't quite as open ended as they initially appear. As these characters run around the city, gossiping and laughing and finding excuses to go from one place to the next, it's simply one more slice of Tokyo that Miki is baring before his spectators. Any connection these people might have to the two "main" characters is incidental. The only truly important link they share is one that should be obvious from the story's opening moments: they are, along with those watching the film, adrift in Tokyo.