Tokyo Trash Baby (Tokyo Gomi Onna, 2000)
Mami Nakamura, Kazuma Suzuki, Ko Shibasaki. Directed by Ryuichi Hiroki. Written by Shotaro Oikawa.
In Tokyo Trash Baby, Miyuki, a twenty-something woman living alone in Tokyo, has a crush on Yoshinori, the musician who lives a few floors up. Whenever Yoshinori adds his trash to the pile behind the building, Miyuki swipes the whole bag and takes it to her apartment, where she sorts through the day’s trash-treasure. She saves the empty drink bottles, the discarded cigarette boxes, even the cigarette butts themselves, collecting it all in jars, plastic bags, or murals taped to her wall. She knows which brands of instant noodles, breakfast cereal, and smokes he prefers, all of which she adds to her own lifestyle in an effort to get closer to the object of her unrequited affection.
Her apartment takes on the appearance of a shrine, a few items of garbage at a time, her crush growing first into infatuation and then obsession, as the orderly piles of his refuse also grow, covering walls and floor space.
At first, the rest of her life seems pleasant, if unexciting. She waits tables in a cafe, where her sexually adventurous coworker shares updates on her latest encounter, and where a boring young businessman asks her nearly every day for a date.
It’s difficult at times to tell whether Miyuki is going crazy or if she’s living safely within her fantasies. I’m inclined to look the other way on losing her grip on reality if she’s neither hurting anyone nor letting her fantasies wreck her life. If her imagination makes her sad, it at least gives her self-created purpose and an occasional interaction with the object of her dreams. It doesn’t seem to be much better or worse than her coworker’s romances or her regular customer’s similarly unrequited affection.
The acting by Mami Nakamura is good, and I like the way director Ryuichi Hiroki frames a lot of his shots. Some may find it unnecessarily voyeuristic (Miyuki’s preferred alone-at-home attire is underwear and t-shirts), but it seems appropriate given the themes. Hiroki also lets things descend into unquestionable ickiness and (worse) meanness, but the film is mostly a hopeful experience.