Told in four stories, ASADA GARBAGE COMPANY follows a young student as he comes of age and gains an understanding of the nature of work while employed at a waste disposal company.
Kawasaki, eighteen and about to enter college, takes a part-time position at the Asada Garbage Company . It is a small company with a staff of five: an always drunk president; a quietly macho 40-year-old (Matsukura); a young tough (Kinoshita); a mentally challenged young man (Yamada); and a foxy woman administrator (Tomine). Kawasaki is immediately plunged into a daily routine of fending off Kinoshita's bullying while trying to establish a friendship with Yamada.
Kawasaki falls secretly in love with a waitress, and too shy to approach her, he admires her from afar. After learning of Matsukura and Tomine's love affair, Kawasaki is inspired to confess his true feelings.
Kawasaki, now attending university, finds that Yamada can no longer bear Kinoshita's attacks and has stopped coming to work. At the president's bidding, Kawasaki pays Yamada a visit at home, and Yamada agrees to return to the office the next day. But in the interim Yamada's family decides to have him committed to a state home, following the recent death of his mother. Kawasaki bears helpless witness as the consequences of his cruelty weigh upon Kinoshita.
Asada wins a large river cleaning contract, and the company takes on a sizable crew of part-time workers. With Kinoshita as leader and Kawasaki as vice-leader, the company begins to operate with pride and enthusiasm for the environment, and work proceeds smoothly. But when a key employee suddenly quits, Kinoshita is deeply disheartened. With the president's encouragement, Kinoshita tries to regain his old spirit. But when he learns that the city council will be using another company to bulldoze the river bank and ruin all their work, Kinoshita ignores Kawasaki's pleas and abruptly quits.
Kawasaki graduates and leaves his part-time job at Asada to join the corporate world. Kawasaki is determined to put his experience to good use, but nothing goes well for him. By chance he meets up with Tomine, and in conversation with her he realizes that he never found out what he really wanted to do. Panicked, he starts to search desperately for a vocation. He looks up his old Asada Garbage Company colleagues and gradually discovers what he should do and how to go about it in order to give meaning to his life.
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