Tokyo Refugees (Tokyo Nanmin) – 東京難民 [Movie Review]

In Tokyo Refugees, Aoi Nakamura is no longer just a doe-eyed, cute boy who graces the covers of magazines and acts as eye candy in movies and TV shows. He is Shu Tokieda, a naive college boy who underwent a painful transformation to become a favorite male host who caters to older women. This career-defining role has finally proven that he can become a credible dramatic actor.

Nakamura won the Junon Super Boy Contest at the age of 14, making him the youngest recipient of this much-coveted competition for aspiring actors, models, and idol-wannabes. He wanted to become a soccer player, but winning the contest offered a new and equally exciting career. Before Tokyo Refugees, Nakamura appears to be just another aspiring actor who is usually outshined by his more talented co-stars. But there were flashes of brilliance – a few scene-stealing in My Back Page (as Kenichi Matsuyama’s activist-sidekick), as Kakiten who adores Nino in The Lady Shogun and Her Men and as the young boy who was infatuated with Riisa Naka in Yuya Ishii’s Mitsuko Delivers.

Tokyo Refugees begins with a scene where Shu (Nakamura) was carried out from a car – all bloodied and almost unconscious. It seems someone has attacked him quite severely. It used to be an easy life for Shu as each day consists of going to school and dating his girlfriend. The first sign of trouble appeared when he got expelled from school. This was followed by an eviction from his dwelling. Trouble back at home was later revealed as the reason for his current difficult circumstances.

These unfortunate events forced him to stay in a net cafe to spend his nights and doing odd jobs to keep himself from starving. As a last resort, he accepted a job as a test subject for a medical experiment, but things ended quite badly. His dire situation was further escalated when he joined a girl who invited him to a club. This is where he was forced to become a gigolo.

But Shu is a good-natured guy and being involved in exploiting other people, especially women, is not easy for him.

Can he escape this hellish, brutal underworld?

Coming of age movies with dark flavors remain a favorite subject in cinema. What makes this movie interesting is not so much what happened to Shu but how he cope with each and every unfortunate event in his life. It shows his gradual acceptance of both the cruelty and kindness of people who live in a modern city where compassion and faith and loyalty can be bought.

Much praise goes to Nakamura and co-stars Chihiro Otsuka (who plays the older woman infatuated with Shu) and Sho Aoyagi, another male host and Shu’s friend. 

If you want to watch something a bit dark with some pretty convincing acting, then this movie is highly recommended.


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