The problem with family is that you cannot choose them; you have to deal with the hand that life deals you. Japanese director Naoko Ogigami explores this theme in her comedy about a dysfunctional family trying to bridge cultural and generational gaps.
After the death of his mother, Ray (Alex House) finds himself back in the family home with anxiety stricken brother, Maury (David Rendall) and his judgmental sister, Lisa (Tatiana Mazurani). If trying to live with each other was not stressful enough, the siblings also have to adjust to sharing the house with their baa-chan (aka. Grandmother) who they hardly know. To complicate matters baa-chan (Masako Motai) does not speak a word of English, and often lets out a heavy sigh whenever she leaves the washroom. Ray’s desire to get away from his family, and his concerns of whether baa-chan is actually related to them, leads to a discovery that will ultimately alter his perception regarding the importance of family.
Judging by how packed the theatre was at the screening, Toilet was one of the most anticipated films at the Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival. I think this was due to the fact that the comedy, and themes, in the film have broad appeal. The story in Toilet is one that is common in dysfunctional family films, I would even go as far to say that the plot is rather predictable. Yet, that does not mean Toilet is not worth seeing. In fact Toilet, while not groundbreaking, tells its story very well. The script is extremely well written and the quirky humour never misses a beat.
The cast is the real hidden gem of this film. They help to ensure that, despite their individual quirks, the audience is always able to identify with the characters. I was really impressed with the performances of the three leads and their chemistry with the non-English speaking Motai. It is easy to forget that they are actors and not a real family, which is always a wonderful thing to achieve in film. Even supporting characters such as Ray’s co-worker Agni (Gabe Grey) and Lisa’s love interest Billy (Steven Yaffee) make an impact in their brief time on screen.
Naoko Ogigami also deserves much praise for highlighting the subtle beauty of the streets of Toronto. While the film does not overtly show its Toronto roots, as the film is suppose to takes place in an unnamed US city, it is nice to see the Toronto landscape captured in such a unique way. The acting coupled with Ogigami’s experienced direction really makes Toilet a feel good crowd-pleaser which is something we all need every now and then.