Tokyo Trash Baby

Original title
Tokyo Gomi Onna
Japanese title
  • 東京ゴミ女
Running time
88 minutes
20 March 2001
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Miyuki (Mami Nakamura, one of the more memorable aspects of the horror film Tomie), a waitress in a café in Tokyo, develops an obsessive crush on grimy young rock musician Yoshinori (Kazuma Suzuki), who lives in the apartment upstairs. She takes to bringing in his garbage bags and rifling through his refuse - empty water bottles, styrofoam cups, leftover takeaways, etc. Collecting his empty cigarette packets and hoarding the smoked cigarette ends in a jar, cutting out pictures from discarded magazines, and wearing his shredded denim jacket - the ultimate trophy - in the privacy of her own room, she begins to identify with him through the by-products of his day to day existence.

When she unravels a screwed-up tissue paper to discover a soiled condom wrapped inside, she realises that she has competition for his affections in the form of a string of his sexual conquests. Still she approaches him as he practices his guitar in a deserted club, and after humming along a melody found on a torn-up, pencil-sketched score she had pieced together to his guitar accompaniment, she allows herself to be seduced. The following morning he confesses that he knew she had been sifting through his trash, and she flees from his apartment, another one of his castaways. She then makes the long journey across Tokyo to finally lay his memory to rest by burying his rubbish on a large island made of refuse.

A gentle critique of modern Japan's consumer culture, Ryuichi Hiroki's slice-of-life drama is a poignant look at the dilemma presented by a new generation of Japanese weaned on consumerism, the 'freeters' (a contraction of 'free arbeiters') who have eschewed the lifelong grind of the office workplace. A reaction to the stifled lives of their parents in which salaryman fathers were too busy with work to spend time with their children, the freeter has become a prevalent social talking point in the Japanese media over the past few years.

Tokyo Trash Baby (or Tokyo Garbage Girl, as it was known by its English title upon its initial run in Tokyo) presents its garbage collecting stalker protagonist in a sympathetic light as a young innocent opting out of the rigid social structures and rampant consumerism of her parent's generation, and is desperately seeking to replace it with something else - What, who knows, but as Miyuki soon finds out, it takes more than using the same shampoo, eating the same breakfast cereal, and smoking the same strength Marlboros as Yoshinori to find anything more than the most transient emotional fulfilment with him.

Miyuki's role is underscored by the host of subsidiary characters who inhabit the café where she works. Her fellow waitress and confidante, Kyoko (Shibasaki in an early role), keeps her up to date with her own frequent and fleeting sexual liaisons. An older customer exaggerates ridiculously how it was he who worked on the construction of the Shinkansen Bullet Train and Tokyo Tower, and oversaw the first landfills that gave rise to the futuristic development of Tokyo Bay ("Tokyo would be a dump without it", he states.) "Being a coffee shop owner is all right, but a man is judged by what he has done". His generation, he boasts with pride, were responsible for everything that symbolises modern Japan, whilst the new generation seem content to drip around doing nothing.

Miyuki rebuffs the continuing advances of lonely young salaryman Kawashima, whose blind obedience and lack of imagination seem both bland and pathetic. Apparently the best he has to offer her against Yoshinori's seductively dangerous rock 'n roll ambivalence is a night in the "batting cage" practising baseball strokes. The only person she really feels empathy and respect for is her boss (Tomorowo Taguchi): "It would be nice if all men could be like you," she says as he stitches up Yoshinori's discarded jacket for her, "Because you don't ask personal questions."

This is the first of a series of six films of the "Love Cinema" series produced by CineRocket, focusing on young and contemporary female protagonists and all shot on DV. The rest of the series consists of Mitsuhiro Miura's Amen, Somen And Rugger Men! / Eri ni Kubittake, Isao Yukisada's Enclosed Pain / Tojiru Hi, Tetsuo Shinohara's Stake Out / Harikomi, Akihiko Shiota's Gips and Takashi Miike's Visitor Q. Released in Tokyo on the same weekend as the same director's I Am an SM Writer (Futei no Kisetsu), Hiroki's film is tightly scripted and acted with a touching humanism throughout. Don't hold your breath though, because I doubt this will be making it to your local multiplex.