One of the most striking discoveries at this year’s Montreal fest, “Laundry” is a slow-burning, offbeat character comedy that announces a considerable talent in first time writer-director Junichi Mori, 34. A three-hander built round the weird young owner of a laundromat, a mysterious woman who swims into his life and a seriously spacy pigeon-trainer, pic builds in a precise, organic way into a shy romantic comedy that’s totally winning. With a modicum of trimming, and in the hands of devoted distribs, this could score as a niche attraction.
Explaining how he’s been a bit brain-damaged since he fell down a manhole when young, Teru (Yosuke Kubozuka) sits outside his grandma’s coin-op laundry making sure customers don’t steal clothing. When the beautiful but lonely Mizue (Koyuki) leaves a garment behind, he runs after her and she invites him up for a cup of tea, asking him to hold her hand for five minutes. A friendship is born.
Teru’s life is just slightly out of joint. At home, his sisters hate each other; at work, a guy climbs inside a tumble dryer and refuses to come out. Teru hits the road in search of Mizue again, and hitches a ride with Sally (Takashi Naito), a beer-swilling martinet who takes a gruff liking to the unnaturally serene young man and offers his help if ever needed.
Finally locating Mizue, who’s moved to another town, Teru stays with her and the two decide to find Sally who, it turns out, raises white pigeons for wedding ceremonies. The three form a weird but happy household, until one day Sally announces he’s going abroad “to marry a woman with big tits.” Left alone, Teru and Mizue are faced with working out their world together.
Pic demands some patience during its first hour prior to the threesome getting together, but richly rewards the viewer thereafter with sudden shafts of loopy humor and the growing attraction between the two damaged souls. He says she reminds him of a girl he fell for many years ago; she says he’s “saving” her just by being around — a remark that only becomes clear in the final act.
Lensed with great precision and sense of composition by Kozo Shibasaki, and outfitted with a delicate score by Zentaro Watanabe, the picture is sustained by acute playing from its leads, especially Kubozuka as the semi-childlike but not-so-dumb Teru and Naito as the weirdo pigeon-trainer. An animation sequence adds little to what is already in the movie, and the final reels could be tighter, but otherwise “Laundry” comes up fresh, crisp and bright.