DVD Review: Mitsuko Delivers
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Yet another touching tale from Yuya Ishii...
"I'm ready for anything - bring it on!" says the ever-confident lead of Yûya Ishii’s latest film, Mitsuko Delivers. In a similar vein to his 2010 film, Sawako Decides, Ishii explores quirky characters learning to take control of their lives.
The heroine, Mitsuko (an excellent Riisa Naka), is heavily pregnant and left to deal alone with the imminent birth of her son after her American boyfriend dumps her. She doesn’t dwell on the past, fleetingly looking at a photograph of near naked guys partying and later matter-of-factly commenting "He was kind of big and really black". Her new neighbour rejects her offers of kindness and when she tries to sell items to make money to pay for medical bills, she ends up being charged a removal fee. Moving out with nothing more than a suitcase to her name, Mitsuko remains remarkably calm, giving her last remaining coins to a sad-looking man at the bus stop.
A male voice-over narrating the opening cleverly tricks us into believing we're to follow this sorry character until we're shown the considerably more upbeat Mitsuko watching him talking in a TV interview. The contrast of Mitsuko and the TV interviewee demonstrates how different approaches to life can affect our happiness. Rather than apologising for entering her neighbour’s flat unasked, Mitsuko merely says: "You can barge into my house too." In the taxi, she asks the driver to take her "the same direction that the cloud is going".
The cloud leads her to an incontinent old woman's house in a run-down tenement. Through a series of flashbacks to fifteen years earlier we discover the imposed-upon woman was once Mitsuko’s landlady. One flashback shows little Mitsuko staring at the clouds while her ashamed parents unsuccessfully try to arrive at the tenement without being noticed. Their kindly landlady refuses to take pity on their financial downfall, pointing out those who surround them are in dire circumstances too. Like the tenement (the only part of Tokyo to survive air raids and now surrounded by high rises), she’s pretty tough and has fared some rough times herself but has never ignored those more needy.
One of the most touching flashback scenes shows Mitsuko’s neighbour, Yoichi, telling her "I love you the best" immediately before her parents flee the area. Although the adult bond between the two is apparently still present, it is made much less of. Yoichi (Aoi Nakamura) runs a near empty restaurant with his uncle and feeds Mistuko without charge when she first returns. The two chefs at first appear awkward with words and look like they're constantly standing on ceremony. Yoichi’s sudden offer to look after Mitsuko and her unborn child comes from no-where and the way she accepts his offer is just as unexpected. His Uncle Jiro’s (Ryo Ishibashi) proposal to the local tea shop owner seems to be equally erratic, despite subtle hinters there might be a history between them. These aren’t the only curve balls Ishii fires at us, throwing in a ridiculous guitar accompanied explosion, a miracle and an odd hilltop labour scene accompanied by tribal drums.
Crazed experimental jazz makes up much of the film’s soundtrack as Mitsuko unintentionally rallies the whole community behind her, seemingly having a positive effect on all she makes contact with. She’s certainly an unusual character with a bizarre life philosophy, a tendency to always put others first and a distinctive very sincere but stern way of talking. In the heat of an argument she tells everyone to take a nap and they obey her, perfectly summarising the kind of peculiar behaviour you can expect from Ishii’s characters who all seem to be obsessed with what is “cool” and what isn’t.
Mitsuko Delivers is decidedly odd and more puzzling than humorous but has an undeniable positive energy. It is no Sawako Decides but amid all the yelling, confusion and misunderstanding, it has real heart, exploring themes of love, friendship, justice and humanity. If you’re able to take a leaf out of Mitsuko’s book and roll with it, you’re likely to enjoy its inexplicable character interactions.
Director/ Writer: Yûya Ishii
Studio: Third Window Films
Release Date: July 9 2012
Running Time: 109 mins
Starring: Riisa Naka, Aoi Nakamura, Ryo Ishibashi
• Making of Mitsuko Delivers
• Third Window trailers
Special Features for Mitsuko Delivers are a little thin on the ground with only the 26 minute Making Of... likely to pique interest, combining film clips and narrative. Weblinks are nothing more than marketing ploys to get you to look at Third Windows' other releases on their website and Youtube page.
The Making of aims to take you into Yuyo Ishii's world and begins with a comically bold voice-over claiming "Japan has been cheered up” by the partnership of Riisa Naka and Yûya Ishii before introducing us to the "new heroine of the contemporary world". We’re given a quick history of Naka’s previous roles and some insight into the effect the role had on her, including memories of the three weeks she had to wear the pregnancy suit.
Most interesting are interviews with Yuyo Ishii and Ryo Ishibashi. Ishii helpfully gives us a definition of the word “cool” and reveals it was apparently created in in the Samurai period. He also informs us a “strong will” is valued above almost everything in Japanese society, explaining that he uses Mitsuko's character to explore his central themes. Ishibashi gives a very earnest interview, very honestly acknowledging the Japanese are more concerned with "style over substance" and "quantity over quality".
It's also amusing to discover the script is 100% Ishii's and fascinating to be shown the tenement set is a real residence in Tokyo still lived in today, Ishii previously contemplated using as a potential setting for his last film A Man With Style.
Feature sections are very obviously sign-posted by the voice-over, almost patronisingly so: "Now I will introduce the characters in the story..." Whatever you make of the film, the Making Of is certainly both compelling and charming to watch, leaving you to ponder whether "Mitsuko [can] solve everyone's problems in a cool way?"
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