Gentle comedy “Enokida Trading Post” is the latest work of Gunma-born director Ken Iizuka who, this time, chooses to go back to the familiar ground of his own hometown and tell the stories of a bunch of people reinventing themselves. It will celebrate its world premiere in the presence of director Iizuka and leading actor Kiyohiko Shibukawa at the Nippon Connection 2018 in Frankfurt.
After few years in Tokyo and a couple of failed marriages, Enokida Yojiro (Shibukawa Kiyohiko) is back to his rural hometown of Shibukawa, Gunma Prefecture, where he runs a successful thrift and recycling / second hand shop. Enokida’s motto is “Anything but garbage. We take it all” and sometimes it feels like Enokida is not talking only about objects. The shop is in fact a sort of gathering of old friends and curious individuals. There are two regular employees, Kiyoharu (Ryu Morioka) a reserved and good-natured man who – like Enokida – had a spell of life in Tokyo that didn’t really work out as wanted, and Chiaki (Sairi Itoh) a clumsy, goofy young woman with a very troubled married life, who is treated like a little sister. Moreover, gravitating around the shop we find Jo (Kenichi Takito), who is (too) back from Tokyo – maybe just temporarily – as he is trying to write a film-script and at the same time helping his family to run a local inn, and Yoko (Kimiko Yo) a mature woman bluntly looking for romance and a cigarette to smoke in good company. This bunch of uncommitted, young-at-heart lads is led by Enokida, whose great personal charm and idiosyncrasies (that friends call «Enokida-isms») allow him to get by in life and have a certain success with the ladies.
Summer flies by, between a pick-up of old washing machines, deciding what to eat for lunch and where to go for a beer, until one day the ideograph “Eno” falls off the “Enokida Trading Post” sign. Nobody is hurt and taking it as an omen, Enokida declares that something big is going to happen. And indeed some changes start to occur, even if probably they are not really what Enokida had in mind. Life is sending a clear message that it’s time to make decisions.
Both director Ken Iizuka and actor Shibukawa Kiyohiko are from Gunma Prefecture and – like their characters – at some point they left the quiet provincial hometown to try their luck in Tokyo but unlike their characters, they succeed in this over-crowded diaspora to the big cities. «Enokida Trading Post» feels like a love project, a tribute to those who didn’t make it and are back in the province, bravely recycling themselves. But there isn’t a trace of moral-ism or rhetoric in this affectionate portrait of camaraderie and companionship. None of the characters in the movie look either brave or determined, they are in a status of standby, living a second adolescence, elaborating their failures in front of a drink and waiting to move on sooner or later. Enokida’s recycling shop can easily be seen as a gentle and whimsical allegory of their life. Chiaki and Kiyoharu sights in front of a beer: “Life wears you out, doesn’t it?”. Like bric-a-brac on a shelf, these group of likable losers are a bunch of second hand humans; they all had a previous existence and they are all searching for a new relocation in life.
Infused with laconic and bizarre humor the movie is episodic in his progression, with a mix of slapstick gags (the «ding-a-ling» is a recurrent one) and serious reality checks, but doesn’t dig deep in the life of its inhabitants. It is a snapshot of the present, a frozen moment of their life that will lead to something else.
Shibukawa Kiyohiko is the real glue of a film that otherwise would be a bit loose at the seams. He is one of those actors – like Ryuhei Matsuda – who play themselves over and over again and we love them for that. A mix of congenital charisma and effortless cool makes him a natural leader and a great presence, and the discreet and naturalistic direction plays along with him.
“Enokida Trading Post” is an affectionate, sweet and sour love-letter to second opportunities, as well as a portrait of lost souls who care for each other and it will charm audiences with its contagious positive attitude toward life despite crumbling signposts and their threatening presages.