Films about urban commoners in the Edo Period (1603-1867) are the exception rather than the rule in the Japanese period drama genre. With their flashing swords, the samurai lend themselves to action. The peasants are often hymned as salt of the earth, even as they're mocked as cowardly rubes in the same movie (see Akira Kurosawa's 1954 drama "Seven Samurai" for a textbook example).

In the funny, tender and thematically adventurous “Okiku and the World,” Junji Sakamoto mixes low comedy with visual lyricism, though the film, which is based on his original script, is a class-spanning love drama at heart. Set primarily in a tenement row house in Edo (the former name for Tokyo) toward the end of the feudal era, it resembles another Kurosawa classic: “The Lower Depths” (1957).

But in contrast to Kurosawa’s film, which is populated by romantic outsiders — Toshiro Mifune’s thief, Bokuzen Hidari’s Buddhist pilgrim — Sakamoto’s goes further down the social ladder to a manure collector (Sosuke Ikematsu) and a waste paper collector (the single-named Kanichiro) who team up to pursue the former’s more lucrative, if universally disdained, trade.