Directed by Daishi Matsunaga
Produced by Shinji Ogawa, Morio Amagi
Starring Yojiro Noda,Hana Sugisaki
Pieta in the Toilet is a Japanese film from 2015.
The premise of the film is quite simple. A downbeat painter is given the sad news he only has 3 months to live after he is diagnosed with stomach cancer. During this harrowing moment in his desperate life, he must re- discover a greater sense of who he is and hopefully, regain the desire to be a painter.
This film as you might expect is a slice of life. Slice of life usually entails a film that is usually slower than a typical film by focusing on what you would call more mundane aspects of life. Such is the case. Pieta in the Toilet like many slice of life films tries to make up for its slower pacing by being stronger in other aspects. For Pieta in the Toilet, I would say its cinematography and a strong ambiance. The cinematography of the film is quite spectacular besides a great selection of several beautiful shots of the urban and rural Japanese landscape, the film’s cinematography is able to capture the feeling and mood of its main character quite well. Although it isn’t as foreboding as one might expect and sometimes it can be confusing as some of the shots doesn’t seem to fit the main character’s emotion at the time. Maybe, this is an unfair criticism from me, perhaps it’s part of me comparing the cinematography to Wong Kar-wai who seem to be a master at this type of cinematography. But we do get a more detached cinematography although may be less character focused but is able to give better sense of the world around them. As a slice of life, this film’s ambiance is robust largely due to the fact it centered around such a ”low key” event so it makes all of the events quite believable. Not in the realm of being totally over the top or outrageous, the film is able to portray itself in a very realistic manner. The humor of the film falls into this category which is very subtle and believable. The characters also behave in a manner that prevents the film from becoming ”over the top” as well; certainly, it helps that the film deals with such a serious subject matter such as death to keep the characters acting that way.
The characters of the film are probably the most divisive element of the film; my assumption is that this is where lines will be drawn about how people will feel about the film. The characters in my view are hit and miss. Hiroshi Sonoda, the main character of the film, is probably the weakest element of the film itself, although he is forced to endure such a cruel and unfair predicament, he never seems to be endearing and sympathetic enough to be likable. Perhaps the last moments of the film he is but that’s too late to make enough of an impact, but Hiroshi Sonoda seems to be too drawn back and distant for his own good so thus his motivations aren’t really revealed in a clear way. He ends up becoming an odd enigma that you don’t know what to feel about. In spite of all this, there are many emotional moments with his character that show his hidden human side but it’s too bad this side of him is too masked by his aloofness. For a film hinging so much on this character’s dilemma, it’s disappointing that this character is too undeveloped which subsequently drags the film’s quality down.
The character of Mai would have fallen into the same trap as Hiroshi Sonoda but her character doesn’t feel as flat due to the fact, she has a more of an on-screen presence and better clues throughout the film that reveal more of her character. Her domineering personality becomes a major focal point of the narrative as her attitude causes the main character to change. In a certain way, she seems to be the screaming voice of reason for the main character. There are a couple of interactions between her and the main character Hiroshi that denote pivotal moments of his character. Moments that seem to be heavy in symbolism; symbolism that is marked by beautiful colors and tight cinematography. This symbolism reaches a fevering peak in a transcendent moment where he finally picked up the paintbrush once again. This film doesn’t handle the character of Hiroshi the best way, but the striking visuals of this moment really convey his character growth in such a dramatic way. Their odd relationship is pretty much the film’s most important element. It works for the most part but I couldn’t help but think it could have been elevated if Hiroshi was a stronger character but what is here works on many levels if you try to look deeper.
This film is no doubt a trip for your visual senses but the trip can be a confusing one at times due to what may seem like an undeveloped main character. A nonchalant main character who shares the calm and relaxed pacing of the film itself. A pacing and tone that may seem too relaxed for the dilemma on hand but I like to think it’s the film’s way of projecting Hiroshi’s sense of hopelessness and the lack of value he sees in his life. Pieta in the Toilet is a film that tries to be subliminal but in an attempt to be subdued it ends up to become less concise and more confusing. Nonetheless, it has a strong artistic vision in its repertoire.
I had written this review on IDMB on the 4th of March before I had it bought here.