Mr. Thank You (“Arigatô-san”)
Directed by Hiroshi Shimizu
Written by Hiroshi Shimizu from a novel by Yasunari Kawabata
I loved this slice of life of Depression-era rural Japan.
Mr. Thank You is a bus driver and got his name from his cheerful “thank you” called out as miscellaneous foot traffic gets out of his way on the mountain roads he travels. The film covers just one bus journey from a small coastal town to a train station on the other side of the mountains. The train will take a 17-year-old girl to Tokyo where she will go into some apparently shameful form of employment. She is accompanied by her mother. Also on the bus is a young woman of the world who calls herself a “migratory bird” and has her eye on Mr. Thank You and a rather obnoxious man in a fake handlebar mustache who has his eye on the girl.
Many other passengers get on and off the bus en route. Mr. Thank You is well known to the people who live along his route and does small favors for them such as carrying messages or picking up records of popular music. There is a thread of plot involving the principal passengers but mostly the film is presented in vignettes of small everyday occurances.
I love to get a glimpse of what real life was like long ago and far away and this film beautifully gave me one. Somehow Shimizu does this and transcends what could otherwise be a travelogue. All the incidents are so vivid that I was fully engaged the whole time. Highly recommended.