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Toilet -- Film Review

The Bottom Line

Quirky family comedy whose charms get flushed out when it tries to do too much.

Starring

Masako Motai
Alex House
David Rendall
Tatiana Maslany
Gabriel Greg
Steven Yaffee

Directed by

Naoko Ogigami

Written by

Naoko Ogigami

This is probably the only film ever to depict an orgasmic experience between a man and a loo (or a "washlet" to be precise).

"Toilet" is a family drama by Naoko Ogigami about three Eurasian siblings who get to know their eccentric Japanese grandmother. Fitted with too many functions: warmth, comic relief, spiritual cleansing " just like the multi-tasking "washlet," half the quirky charm of Ogigami's previous works "Megane" and "Seagull Diner" gets flushed out in the process.

Professionally made and as watchable as afternoon TV, the Japanese-Canadian co-production may have limited independent theatrical release opportunities in a few North American cities.

When their beloved mother dies, the Courtneys (Ray, Maurie, Lisa) feud and fret over how to dispose of her legacy, her cat, the family house and Baa-chan (an affectionate term for "granny" in Japanese.) Baa-chan (Masako Motai) doesn't speak English (or a word of anything else) and haunts the toilet every morning like a ghost with a grudge. Unwilling to care for a stranger, Ray (Alex House) secretly gets a DNA test to see if there are real blood ties, with surprising results.

You know there's a life lesson embedded in the story when the cat's called "sensei" ("master" or "teacher" in Japanese). So even though the siblings are all emotionally constipated misfits, Baa-chan dispenses mysterious oriental philosophy to cure them. In most scenes, Motai is so composed she's like a lamppost with three yapping puppies at her feet. Her acting is so methodical it's like she's acting in front of a camera rather than an audience.

The problem is, Ogigami exaggerates the siblings" dysfunctional conditions so much to begin with that even after the predictable reconciliation, they can't redeem themselves as likeable people.

To show them discovering their Japanese roots, Ogigami makes them cultural ignoramuses, even doing a close-up of them holding chopsticks as if they have repetitive strain injury. Unless there is a back story to why they were exposed to nothing Japanese except gyozas and sushi, it is not believable.

Ogigami's last two films featured nomads and vacationers who didn't need a past to be interesting. But for a domestic drama to work, you need family history, which is so incomplete in "Toilet" (say, what happened to dad?) that the setup looks superficial.

So what's all the fuss about the toilet? Well, it's like Rosebud in "Citizen Kane." You"ll find out in the last scene, and it is definitely worth the wait.