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Original Title:
Kiraware Matsuko no issho

Japan 2006

Comedy, Drama

Tetsuya Nakashima

Miki Nakatani
Asuka Kurosawa
Yusuke Iseya
Mikako Ichikawa
Teruyuki Kagawa
Akira Emoto
YosiYosi Arakawa
Hitori Gekidan
Shinji Takeda
Shosuke Tanihara
Takanori Takeyama
Masahiro Komoto

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Memories of Matsuko

Story: Sho Kawajiri (Eita) is a teenager without any perspective in life, but one day he gets a visit by his father. He tells him that Sho had an aunt he never knew of and who is now deceased. Sho's father asks his son to clear out the apartment of his aunt Matsuko (Miki Nakatani), whereas by doing so the teenager finds out more and more about the woman who was his aunt and has been found murdered in a park a few days ago. Was Matsuko's life really without a meaning as his father is thinking? And why did his father never mention her?
Matsuko was a very popular teacher back in her days, who wasn't only admired because of her beauty, but also because of her wonderful voice. However, one day one of her students is accused of having stolen some money from the local inn keeper. Even though Matsuko is having a serious word with the culprit, the thief won't confess. Therefore, the teacher is forced to give back the money herself in order to clear up the issue. She "borrows" some money from her roommate and tells the inn keeper that she was actually the thief. The consequences are that she gets fired because being a two-time thief. After this, Matsuko's life is going down the drain. Her father favors her sister over her and never gives Matsuko any attention, which is why she flees home, eventually.
Thereafter, Matsuko is leading a turbulent life and always ends up with the wrong guys. She gets mistreated, gets in contact with prostitution and even commits a murder. However, Matsuko is actually just a woman who wants to see everybody satisfied and happy...

Review: It's difficult to write an objective review about a movie that impressed me so much as "Memories of Matsuko" did. This tragi-comedy by director Tetsuya Nakashima is a mix of "Forrest Gump", "Amelie from Montmartre" and a music-video/musical. Nakashima takes us on a rollercoaster ride of emotions and tells us the epic tale of the tragic heroine Matsuko in candy-coloured and fairy tale-like pictures - the sort of you've never seen before. But "Memories of Matsuko" isn't only a masterpiece on a visual level. The film manages to be a bitter and gruesome tale in a dreamlike multicolored wrapping, while at the same time also making the audience laugh out loud. There really aren't many tragicomedies that can claim to have successfully pulled that off, but this one really does, and even ascends to the throne of the genre.

Since his great and wacky "Kamikaze Girls" I knew that Nakashima is a director who derserves that you keeps your eyes open for his future works. With joy, even though somewhat late, I found out that he made a new movie. The expectations were quite high, but Nakashima actually exceeded them with ease. It's just breathtaking how much visual creativeness he shows in his movie. The film looks like a colorful fairy tale, whereas every singly frame seems to be right out of a picture book. The ones in charge for the sets and pictures really had their fun in covering everything on screen with an endless supply of pails of colors. The director leaves no doubt that he has an incredible eye for even the smallest of details. It seems as if he composed every single picture with great care. The effort and fantasy that has been put into this work is simply awesome. Thanks to the way Nakashima tells his story he also can make full use of his ideas. There is everything to be found here, from drawn birds, to artificial meadows covered by flowers, to a great lighting technique, to inventive and superior camera work.

"Memories of Matsuko" oftentimes looks like a fast-cut music video, and as already said delivers an overkill of the whole color palette. It also stands out because of different directing methods, which apparently differ depending on which decade the movie is depicting. How multiplexed the film actually is when it comes to the visuals is also especially apparent in the different musical insertions, which all prove to be little masterpieces even on their own. This ranges from a musical-like video when we get to know more about Matsuko's past as an almost-prostitute, including garish colors and fast editing, to a happy-life 60s piece with the fitting title "Happy Wednesday", to a MTV-like R'n'B video in prison, which scores with a great choreography and little bit more dark and somber colors. As we are already at it, I have to give some extra credit to the fantastic soundtrack, which is always enthralling and fits seamlessly into this piece of art that is living and breathing pop culture. Normally, I don't think much of musicals, but here you almost want to sing along. A great symbiosis of a musical, drama and a comedy. By the way, Miki Nakatani, a former pop star, also is allowed to enchant with her beautiful voice in several pieces.

"Memories of Matsuko" is full of pictures that will knock you out of your socks, so beautiful are they. There aren't just garish colors everywhere throughout the movie, but the colors suit the prevailing mood. Moreover, the lighting is used to its full effect and is worked into the movie with a lot of care. A lot of what we get to see looks intentionally artificial, but also incredibly beautiful, what's making this film a real piece of art.
However, looks isn't everything that counts, as we got to see in Park Chan-wook's "I'm a Cyborg but that's ok", for instance. Luckily, director Nakashima is always paying attention to the fact that all the artificial stuff and the visuals serve his movie and the story he wants to tell. Therefore, what's making "Memories of Matsuko" so special is the big heart it possesses.
The great unique and jarring way the director makes movies and some of the wacky characters, as well as some pretty funny scenes are without a doubt the trademarks of a comedy, but at the same time this movie also centers around the stern drama of a woman who always gave and never took anything, which destroyed her in the end. The director always knows when it's best to put the drama into the movie's focus and does so in a refreshingly sarcastic way, which makes us laugh and weep at the same time. It's hard to describe how Nakashima managed to mix comedy and drama so seamlessly as he did here, but he somehow just pulled it off...

The story is always playing the main instrument of the movie and is told via several flashbacks into Matsuko's past. Every decade has its own characteristics and shows us the different strokes of fate Matsuko had to overcome. Sho, the nephew of the heroine, serves us as someone we can relate to and who accomanies us as we find out more about this astonishing woman. We are introduced to the various chapters of Matsuko's life by different characters, which also leads to some cross-overs. Some scenes are almost reshowed 1:1, just from another perspective. But despite that and a running time of 130 minutes the movie never feels boring at all, which quite frankly is also simply impossible, thanks to the breakneck pacing. Only when it is appropriate the pacing slows down a bit in order for certain scenes to have the necessary impact on us.
Furthermore, the film is full of interesting characters. For instance, there is Matsuko's only friend, Megumi, who is played by Asuka Kurosawa ("A Snake of June") with so much class, that at times she almost runs the risk to steal Nakatani the show. Ryu, who's embodying Matsuko's last boyfriend also gets the time he deserves to tell his story, so that the movie becomes a complex construction of flashbacks and narrative strands. Fortunately, we never lose track in this multi-level building of a movie.

Besides all the colorful and wacky characters, there is only one in the film's focus, naturally, and that's Matsuko. Miki Nakatani gives a perfect and incredibly multi-layered performance. She absolutely blew me away with her acting abilities. Her portrayal in "Ring" and "Train Man" weren't really outstanding, which is why her actual acting talent totally surprised me. Not only does she manage to look completely different concerning her hair style and dresses in the various decades the film depicts, no, she also succeeds in bringing every little change in her character onto screen in the most credible way possible. As a bonus she also looks really sexy in many scenes. But the theme of sex and sex appeal is something the movie plays with skillfully, anyway.
It's easy to suffer alongside Matsuko, as she seems to be a human being too pure for this world. That's the reason why she gets ruined by the people surrounding her and the world in general, until she even becomes a whore, a killer and the woman of a Yakuza. Matsuko always ends up with the wrong guys, gets maltreated, beaten and dumped, eventually. Still, Matsuko is happy with the men she gets, because there is nothing that she fears more than being alone. For this reason Matsuko undergoes some serious change in this rollercoaster ride which represents her life. However, in her core she remains the nice girl, who wants to make everyone happy and asks for almost nothing in return. That's what's making it so easy to sympathize and suffer with this extraordinary woman.

Towards the end we get to see how pure Matsuko really is, when western religion comes into play and we have to realize that Matsuko is, if not godlike, than at least angelical in her character traits.
The ending hits you with a great amount of drama, but does so with a fine sort of gentleness which fortunately is deprived of any cheesiness. Nakashima grants us the time we need to suffer with Matsuko, but he doesn't refrain from giving us a warm smile on our face, too. Still, you shall be warned: It's most unlikely that you won't shed a tear or two after this great rollercoaster ride of emotions. "Memories of Matsuko" is still affecting days after viewing it, just by thinking of it. It's a movie you won't forget so soon. As for my part, I can't remember the last time a movie managed to touch me as much as this one.
This candylike and colorful fairy tale doesn't only enchant you with its great visuals, nice humor, big heart and fantastic musical-like soundtrack, but also never loses focus of the drama, which is the story's center at every point throughout the movie. The pictures, the music and the impressive acting make for a perfect whole, which could make a lasting impression on me. Nakashima makes you wanna clap your hands after the credits roll even if there is no one else in the room, just to applaud him for his inventive and brilliant vision of a tragicomedy. A fantastic fairy tale that no one should miss!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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