Common problem, hatch release handle is made of plastic and cracks. Amazon has replacements made of metal for <20 dollars, well worth it.
It always cracks when the hatch is closed, so you need to find a way to open it. I used pliers to break the remainder of the handle out of the way, then used locking pliers and an allen key to reach in and actuate the lever connected to the cable.
Use the short end of the allen to reach into where the handle used to go, and feel around for the release lever. pull down while also pulling out on the door. Just takes a few tries. Look at the replacement handle to get an idea of where you are pulling.
Step 1, remove upper side (L/R) trim pieces, then the main door interior panel. Same as a regular car door, unsnap all around the bottom and sides and then lift it off (up direction if the door was closed) The door panel hangs off the door at the top where the window goes in.
Step 2, remove the inner door liner. 10mm all around and a few cables to disconnect from the door ECU
The handle is underneath the window mechanism.
I was not looking forward to removing that mechanism and dealing with the door and window falling out of the tracks etc etc… thankfully toyota thought of this and provided two holes that you can reach in with an 8 inch extension and get the nuts. the nuts are flanged, so they stay on the end of the socket without falling off… not quite redeemed for making such a terrible latch, but at least it makes changing it easy.
hard to tell but the wrench is at 45 degrees and just getting to the two nuts
Unsnap the cable up at the latch, remove license plate, and connector to the license plate bulbs and the exterior trim panel unsnaps off with the latch with it.
Old and new latch, two phillips head screws to swap. One was corroded and I drilled it out. I don’t think it matters, just for locating it on the trim piece. The real force from opening is transferred to the door frame by the studs, not these little screws
put everything back together and job done!
Two other sheetmetal pieces have succumbed to the rust, front disc rotor dust shield and gas tank skid plate corner. don’t know if its worth replacing… ill add it to the list