Pieta in the Toilet Movie Review

I recently watched Pieta in the Toilet via Kissasian and I have a lot to say. Especially to some naysayers.

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Pieta in the toilet Movie Poster

First off, the reason I watched this movie aside from the title, I saw Noda Yojiro was the lead actor and I am a big fan of the band Radwimps

Truth be told, I didn’t read much about the movie before I watched it.

I am a member of a Facebook group – Japanese Movie & Live Action (The new Group) that talks about the latest Japanese movies and dramas. And the admin Hanatsuki and Rei said it was good. So I braced myself and put it on.

Cast: Yojiro Noda, Hana Sugisaki, Lily Franky, Saya Ichikawa, Shinobu Otake, Rie Miyazawa

Director: Daishi Matsunaga
Screenwriters: Daishi Matsunaga, Osamu Tezuka (original concept)

The Terminal Disease: Cancer

The plot isn’t new, I know. It’s about cancer and Japanese Cinema has discussed this topic several times already.

Remember the movies, To Live (1952) or April Bride (2009) and the moving 1,778 Stories of Me and My Wife (2011)?

The director of the film, Daishi Matsunaga, is a well-known documentary filmmaker. Pieta in the Toilet is actually his first narrative feature. I would like to describe his development of the story as a soft sucker punch to the gut. You know what happens in cancer movies, but its the last couple of months or weeks that makes or breaks a movie.

They threw in a dysfunctional love story too and an unlikely friendship between cancer patients. 

It isn’t exactly tissue-consuming, although there were parts where your heart will definitely feel a pinch. In its own way, the movie showed us that the disease isn’t pretty and can’t be romanticized. 

So it focused on the characters instead. 

The Characters and Cast

Yojiro Oda stars as Sonoda. The main vocalist of the internationally recognized Japanese rock band, Radwimps, (Your Name Original Sountrack) plays a former art school graduate with an impressive but hardly shown talent in painting. 

Noda Yojiro Actor, Musician and Rock Icon
Noda Yojiro stars in Pieta in the Toilet

The movie starts with him initiating a newly hired window washer who falls unconscious when the strong winds shake their platform several floors high. But Sonoda also faints, not because of fright but because of his soon to be diagnosed medical condition. 

So, the former painter and now window washer consults a doctor and discovers he has stomach cancer. It should be noted that the doctor told him of his terminal disease quite nonchalantly. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to mean that cancer is becoming more and more common that doctors hardly feel any pinch of sadness informing patients that they’re dying horribly. 

Anyway, Sonoda undergoes chemotherapy and ends up shitting all over his work jumpsuit. 

In flashbacks at appropriate moments, we see Sonoda’s past. His talent in painting his naked sleeping then-girlfriend, Satsuki (Saya Ichikawa). She’s also an artist, but she has achieved success and meeting Sonoda while washing windows showed the stark contrast of the situation.

Sonoda, obviously talented but unsuccessful, versus Satsuki, a textbook artist but a success. 

Before hearing the results of the lab tests he underwent after fainting at work, Sonoda asks Satsuki to play his sister so he doesn’t hear about the news alone. She walks out though and Sonoda spots a fight between a high schooler and an older man. 

Mai, played by Hana Sugisaki, is an impulsive high school girl who is arguing with an old man for tearing his uniform. Our lead character interrups and agrees to pay for the damages if she would pose as his sister. Mai gives it little thought and accepts. 

Hana Sugisaki plays Mai in Pieta in the Toilet
Still looks young in this photo

Scenes after their meeting shows us that the two characters may seem different, but have striking similarities. 

Lily Franky isn’t just comedic relief even though he was funny. Franky plays Sonoda’s cancer ward roommate. He’s a salary man who worked hard and got diagnosed with cancer. 

Lily Franky stars in Pieta in the Toilet
Japanese Actor

But unlike our male lead, he seems to have it all figured out. He’s in high spirits harassing pretty nurses in the hospital. And he goes in and out of the hospital like he’s checking into a hotel for several series of treatment. 

Pieta in the Toilet Verdict

Having seen real tear-jerkers to exploitative cancer-themed movies over the decades, I have found Pieta in the Toilet as a refreshing addition.

Sonoda is a pathetic character at first glance. Mai is overwhelmingly alive. Both the weren’t happy. Sonora was barely living before he was diagnosed and Mai’s life wa tough. They were both longing to escape. The movie didn’t force you to weep for them. Instead, in the somber and subtle tones made you feel for them, relate to their misery. 

Noda Yojiro & Hana Sugisaki
Pieta in the Toilet

The slow deterioration of Sonoda’s health, showed us a glimpse of how bad it could get. But the director and the movie itself didn’t use the disease as the reason for everything in the story to move you. THIS IS WHY I LOVED IT!

I have been told my toxic hyperthyroidism may have progressed to thyroid cancer back in 2009. I decided not to undergo laboratory tests to confirm it though. My heart and my wallet would not be able to take the treatment or surgery anyway. 

My mind was thinking all sorts of stuff. Until now that I am still thinking about it every now and then – while dealing with all sorts of symptoms – I watch related movies to see how it goes. I’ve experienced near deaths in several hospitals and it ain’t pretty. 

The power of the human spirit, in me for instance, has made me survive it so far. I’m not agonizing over it. 

Sonoda’s personality wasn’t weak although he did seem pathetic in the first part. He had talent, but he didn’t make the most out of it. He was sick but he wasn’t weeping over it either. 

Noda portrayed Sonoda’s dealing with his imminent death sincerely.  I wanted Sonoda to explore his talent and his dreams in the first part of the story. But it became clear that there was no inspiration for him to do so. 

When he did let his artistic side loose, he did it for Mai and it was glorious. 

The pieta he painted in a toilet was a magnificent piece in the most unlikely canvass, for an unwilling muse – at the artist’s darkest of times. 

With Franky’s character cheering and videotaping Sonoda at his last moments, painting the piece – you see how friendship lightens the load, any load for that matter and makes the heart feel happiness. 

His supporting role was a delight. The sick (literally) pervert who befriends Sonoda for no reason at all aside from having their beds near each other – brought acting credibility to the dramatic parts. 

Franky’s professional acting chops complimented the understated acting of Noda and made it easy for us to wrap our hearts around. 

I guess since the director focused on documentaries and reality before this film, you could tell the same atmosphere in the Pieta in the Toilet. 

How the story is told is subtle and understated. It won’t force the audiences to cry. It will however make you relate your own stories to it. It helps that the overall tone is realistic  without being too harsh. The beauty of the ordinary and everyday setting however gives it a lovely canvass. 

Highlights:

  • Amazing cast
  • Wonderful storytelling
  • Beautiful cinematography
  • Didn’t exploit the disease
  • Didn’t force us to swallow anything about it
  • Has Noda Yojiro playing the lead
  • Has Lily Franky playing the supporting role

 

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