Aug 8

The official trailer for Naoko Ogigami’s Toilet, screened at Japan Society July 2011.

By Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2000-03) for JQ magazine. Stacy is a professional writer/interpreter/translator. She starts her day by watching Fujisankei’s newscast in Japanese, and shares some of the interesting tidbits and trends together with her own observation in the periodic series WITLife.

I was able to catch Naoko Ogigami’s Megane (Glasses) when it was shown in March 2009 as part of the ContemporAsian film exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, so I was glad to see her newest film Toilet was being screened at Japan Society’s recent JAPAN CUTS film festival. I appreciated the simplicity and quirkiness of this first feature, but I liked the second one even better for its humor.

Both star Ogigami staple Masako Motai, an actress whose presence always greatly enhances whatever work she is in. Because Toilet is almost entirely in English, it is palatable for those who want to see a foreign movie without dealing with those pesky subtitles. It is supposedly set in the U.S., but it was actually produced in Toronto (Ogigami studied film at USC and in Canada).

Toilet opens with the death of the matriarch of a family of three adult siblings, Ray, Maury and Lisa. The movie’s center is Ray, an emotionless engineer with a fondness for plastic models. A fire in his apartment forces him (toy collection in tow) to move home with Maury and Lisa, who live in the house they grew up in. The audience finds out that shortly before she passed away, their mother went to Japan to bring her mother back with her. Their grandmother Baa-chan doesn’t speak any English and leads a silent existence, despite them all living together. Initially the family member with whom she seems to get along best is the household cat, Sensei.

Ray becomes increasingly concerned with the fact that Baa-chan lets out a huge sigh every time she comes out of the one bathroom the family shares. After learning about Japan’s high-tech toilets from his charismatic co-worker, Ray is convinced that Baa-chan’s sadness stems from the fact that they don’t have a Toto toilet and sets out to remedy this. In one of the movie’s creative comedic touches, the toilet would cost $3000, which is the cost of the toy model that Ray is coveting, as well as how much he has to pay in damages for his co-worker’s car that he crashed. This also happens to be the exact amount of the monetary settlement Ray gets from his apartment fire, so he is left to decide how to spend his windfall.

In addition to witnessing the evolution of Ray’s character, the audience also gets to enjoy the emotional development of his siblings. Pianist Maury has been a hikikomori (recluse) for the past few years since a disastrous recital, but he slowly starts to come out of his shell thanks to his interactions with Baa-chan, as well as the discovery of his mother’s sewing machine when going through her belongings. Lisa starts out with a holier than-thou-attitude toward everyone around her, but rocking out with Baa-chan Guitar Hero-style brings some softness to her character.

The end of the movie brings an unanticipated revelation, causing Ray to rethink the importance of blood ties. You will find yourself rooting for all of these wacky characters, as they strengthen their respective bonds to form their version of what “family” really is.

For upcoming events at Japan Society, visit


one comment so far...

  • Susan Hamaker Said on August 10th, 2011 at 8:57 am:

    One interesting thing about the film is that while all of the siblings tried to communicate with Baa-chan, they spoke to her in English. None of them made any attempt to learn even the simplest Japanese words (outside of “sushi” and “ikura,” of course). I suppose that’s part of its charm, as Baa-chan’s character was brilliant despite saying only two words during the entire film.

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