Japan has long had an image as a country of workaholics, dedicating their lives to the almighty yen. But recent Japanese movies, especially at the lower end of the budget spectrum, are full of furiitā (“freeter,” a fairly young part-timer or freelancer) trying to decide what to do with their lives.
Kiyohiko Shibukawa, a former model with distinctive chiseled features and a deep, radio-ready voice, has often played the slacker version of this type in such films as “Lowlife Love” (2015), “Obon Brothers” (2015) and “And the Mud Ship Sails Away” (2013). He’s the industry’s go-to good-for-nothing.
In Ken Iizuka’s quirky ensemble comedy “Enokida Trading Post,” Shibukawa is Yojiro Enokida, who runs a cluttered recycle shop in rural Gunma Prefecture. In his own words, he deals in anything “that’s not garbage,” but business is hardly booming, not that Enokida really cares. Even so, he has two employees: The feisty Chiaki (Sairi Ito) and the testy Kiyoharu (Ryu Morioka), who tend to get on each other’s nerves.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||110 mins.|
He also has loyal customers — or rather hangers-on — including Yoko (Kimiko Yo), an eccentric middle-aged woman who is carrying on a heated affair with the local laundromat owner, and Jo (Kenichi Takito), a nervous type who is helping his mother run the family hot springs inn while boasting about his glory days as an assistant director in Tokyo. He claims to be writing a film script, though he never divulges its contents — or prospects.
Naturally this quintet, which our hero jokingly dubs the “Enokida cult,” has their secrets, most of which have to do with sex of the comic sort. They also have frustrations, aspirations and difficult choices to make, though Iizuka’s original script has little in the way of a plot.
The film plays like a sitcom, if one too low-key and offbeat for Japanese network TV, that likes its comedy loud and broad. It’s also a shift for Iizuka from his frenetic manzai comedy “Laughing Lucky Cats” (2017) and wacky manga adaptation “Arakawa Under the Bridge” (2012).
Too much of the humor verges on the trite or obvious, as in the running gag of a chubby pre-pubescent boy who always has his eye glued to a barbershop window when Enokida is making love to its sexy, if volatile, proprietor (Reiko Kataoka) inside. (It’s funnier when, after Enokida’s first departure, she goes to the window and laughs right into the kid’s surprised face. Not that that discourages him.)
And when the film turns serious, as in Kiyoharu’s long heart-to-heart with Chiaki about his troubled past, it descends toward the talky and maudlin.
Thankfully, the strong veteran cast makes even the lamest bits at least watchable. The stand-out is Ito as Chiaki: In contrast to the jokey types around her, Chiaki is a straight-ahead energy source, if one seething with an unexpressed discontent. When Yoko teases the truth out of her — her marriage is sexless — and suggests that she drag her hubby to a nearby sex museum, Chiaki enthusiastically follows through. The ensuing gags, mostly involving dildos, could have been cringe-worthy, but Ito’s inspired performance makes them work.
Meanwhile, Shibukawa is on likable autopilot, doing what he has done many times before. Maybe it’s time to hit reset — and say so long to slackers.