Never in a million years would I think that a movie about literal human excrement could be so heartfelt and endearing. A seemingly simple story of poop-crossed lovers unpacks thoughtful insight about the world we live in today.
Director Junji Sakamoto appropriately films mid-1800s Edo, Japan in primarily black and white, albeit with a crisp modernity that betrays the movie’s setting. Okiku and the World follows a teacher, Okiku (Haru Kuroki), who cares for her father, a disgraced samurai. They live in a small cluster of wooden houses devoid of plumbing — an issue currently plaguing Okiku and her neighbours as their fecal waste cakes the dirt roads between their abodes. For Chuji (Kanichiro), though, their crap is his treasure.
Partnering up with Yasuke (Ikematsu Sosuke), Chuji sees an opportunity and collects the feces in buckets, selling the human waste as fertilizer to farmers. Although Okiku herself is far from the aristocracy of Japan, the distinctive class structure condemns her fraternization with Chuji, regardless of the connection formed between them.
Through Okiku and Chuji’s love story, Sakamoto shits all over the social constructs that continue to bind us. Whether it’s socio-economic differences preventing two people from committing themselves to one another or consideration given to how privilege dictates our survival, Okiku and the World uses satire and history to raise a mirror up to our flaws and vulnerabilities as people.
The chilling heart of the film can be found in Chuji. A man who accepts his fate with seemingly little objection — his entrepreneurial hustle is driven by the need to live, not a need for excess wealth or even a way out of his position. Although heartbreaking in its own way, Sakamoto is careful not to take much pity on Chuji. Instead, Chuji’s place in the world — and how others react to him — are matter-of-fact. In turn, where Chuji displays the world as it is, Okiku represents the way we wish the world turned — with compassion and empathy. The two create a delicate balance that grounds the film with subtlety and overt care.
The many plopping and squelching noises will undoubtedly turn some audiences away, but for those able to wade through, Okiku and the World rewards you with a tender story of love and connection.