Features Live Action Movies

Hoarder on the Border
(Danshari Paradise,

Director – Takayuki Kayano – 2022 – Japan – 101m


A failed pianist takes on a job at a cleaning company which specialises in decluttering houses filling up with rubbish – played UK cinemas in the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2024 between Friday, 2nd February and Sunday, 31st March

Promising young pianist Ritsuke Shirotaka (Ryo Shinoda), whose mantelpiece is adorned with prizes he won in school, can’t carry on due to hand tremors. His girlfriend pushes him towards eking out a living giving piano lessons, but that isn’t enough to stop her abandoning him.

In need of gainful employment, he interviews for and gets a job at cleaning company Danshari Paradise. (Note: Danshari is a Japanese philosophy of decluttering, based on principles that have been around in that culture a long time.)

This is a whole new world to him, and he must learn on the job. The houses or flats that the company deals with are typically places where you can’t see the floor for items of clothing and packaging that have been discarded there.

On his first assignment with such a team, Ritsuke attempts to physically pull blockages from a kitchen sink, only for a female colleague to pull him aside and pour liquid down the plughole to clear it. He throws up. He also encounters roaches, and learns that a request by his boss to “get me some tea” is actually code for “I fell into a hole”. As the boss Ichiki Yakichi (Masayasu Kitayama)explains, he uses such coded phrases so as not to alarm the client whose house is being cleaned.

What follows is a series of different client home scenarios. Elementary school teacher Mariko Kishida (Tomu Muto) is concerned about a boy in her class who doesn’t seem to get on well with the other kids, so she calls the child’s mum Asuka Aohara (Yumiko Nakamura) in to school to discuss it and to request a visit to the family home.

Asuka is panicked about this, as well she might be because her flat is awash with stuff. She calls Danshari Paradise to clear her flat on the day the teacher is due to come round in the evening. As Ritsuke is helping to clear the flat, he is about to bin a pile of porn DVDs when Asuka requests he leave them, since they are a significant part of her life. (She is, or at least has at some time in the past been, a porn actress.)

When the teacher visits, the flat has been transformed, and all is going well until a cupboard door collapses, scattering mountains of clutter all over the floor!

Filipino immigrant care worker Von de Guzmàn (Mark Sekioka) started hoarding stuff after his mother died a year ago. He has an eight-year-old meal that she made him in a sealed container in his fridge that he plans to eat at some point in memory of her, but hasn’t been able to do it. And so it is that Ritsuke finds himself sharing a meal with the young man, not at all worried about the length of time it’s been preserved, and when cooked it turns out to be surprisingly tasty. (I must admit, I wasn’t convinced that the pair of them didn’t go down with food poisoning.)

Shigeo Kaneda (Shigeru Izumiya from Fukushima 50, Setsuro Wakamatsu, 2020) has featured on local news reports because there is so much rubbish in his house that it spills out onto and piles up above the space between his front wall and his house. He hurls items out of upper windows at irate neighbours, who are fed up with him. He has to physically move stuff to answer the landline phone.

His son, who drinks with Ichiki, hires the company to clear his dad’s flat with a TV crew to cover the event. Shigeo is taken to a Mah Jongg house while the clearing is in process, and is reunited with his much-loved audio cassette tapes of 1930s jazz. Part of the reason the son wants to clear the flat is so that his dad’s granddaughter can visit.

The narrative unexpectedly returns to school teacher Mariko Kishida and her love life, which takes a distinctly promising turn when he boyfriend proposes to her. He can’t understand why she’ll never let him come over to her flat at the end of an evening, though. The answer is simple: she is another person whose flat is drowning in stuff scattered everywhere. When he finds out, he buys her a visit from Danshari Paradise as a gift.

Ritsuke, who is now getting good at the job, and his assistant, find her cat crushed to death under the trash, as well as her engagement ring which she bins unprompted as her boyfriend watches.

For those of us who don’t live like this, the awfulness of these home scenarios have a compelling fascination. Yet somehow they are much more than that: behind each of the homes Ritsuke finds himself involved in clearing lies a fascinating individual story as to why a person took the path into overwhelming personal clutter that they did. The film is an excuse to showcase a number of these, and does so most effectively. Some of the stills give an excellent idea of the visual aspect of these scenarios.

Lest you think this is a peculiarly Japanese problem not shared by other cultures, it’s curious to note that a new British drama Hoard (Luna Carmoon, 2023) tackles a similar subject, although an altogether darker and more disturbing vision in the form of a clutter-acquiring mother and the effect on her small daughter when she grows up. The current Japanese film is much lighter in tone by comparison, almost comedic (although only at specific moments is it laugh out loud funny). The subject matter is similar, the two films are both very different, and yet both of them prove utterly compelling.

Hoarder on the Border played UK cinemas in the Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme 2024 between Friday, 2nd February and Sunday, 31st March.


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