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Original Title:
Pako to maho no ehon

Japan 2008

Drama, Comedy

Tetsuya Nakashima

Koji Yakusho
Ayaka Wilson
Anna Tsuchiya
Satoshi Tsumabuki
Sadao Abe
Ryo Kase
Eiko Koike
Hitori Gekidan
Takaya Yamauchi
Jun Kunimura
Takaya Kamikawa

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Paco and the Magical Picture Book

Story: Onuki (Koji Yakusho) has built up his own business company several years ago. His stern and determined nature, meaning that he completely doesn't care about the people around him, brought him a big business empire, eventually. However, one day he has a breakdown during one of his meetings and since that day is patient of a mental hospital. A lot of odd characters come together at the institution who soon start to detest Onuki, a man whose mean behavior only serves the purpose that no one gets too close to him. Still, one day the little child Paco (Ayaka Wilson) sits down next to him and he reads her the tale of a story book. The next day Paco can't remember Onuki anymore, though, and she shows him a lighter which he has already been missing. Angry about Paco seemingly playing a prank on him and having stolen his precious lighter he hits the little girl. However, the next day Paco can't remember him once again and sits down next him. Onuki gets to know that the girl can only save new memories for one day since a car accident in which her parents died. The next day she forgets everything that happended the day before. Onuki begins to have feelings of guilt the first time in his life and therefore reads her the story of her book every day hoping that she someday won't forget him, anymore...

Review: Tetsuya Nakashima created one of Japan's best and most impressive movies with his tragi-comedy "Memories of Matsuko". Therefore, expectations for his next movie were quite high, but no one really expected that he can actually deliver a new masterpiece with "Paco and the Magical Picture Book". And, in fact, sadly he doesn't. To be exactly his new film has to struggle with a suprisingly high number of flaws which all can be reduced to the fact that he implemented too much of nearly everything into his movie. This concerns the colors as well as the too wacky characters and the at times hectic pacing. Still, his candy-colored fairy tale manages to touch us and move us to tears. Which is simply because of the childlike purity and naivety that runs through the whole film and the deliberately, well-placed kitsch with which the movie succeeds in hitting the right notes.

Colorful pictures get a whole new meaning thanks to Nakashima. The garish colors and multi-colored sets instantly carry you away into a fairy tale in which everything seems to be possible. The level of detail implemented is once again astonishing. The pictures are at times so loaden with small details that you don't really know where to look at. The amount of work that must have been involved in the arrangement of the sets becomes obviously evident right away and so there is nothing else to do for you than to sit in front of the screen with your mouth open in awe like a little child that enters the land of milk and honey. The wonderful garden with the small pond and the colorful flower fields will remain in your heart the most as well as the gothic looking hospital windows through which light shimmers into the room in different intensity and colors. Tetsuya Nakashima's sense for colors and light is simply amazing, his pictures oftentimes look as if they were being illustrations taken out of a fairy tale book and his picture composition in general is just breathtaking.

Unfortunately, the director exaggerates things when it comes to the characters who are all a shade too wacky. The first half hour is an introduction in which the different personalities are put forward, therefore we somehow miss an actual story unfolding and an individual we can relate to and who makes it easier for us to get access to the film. Moreover, the character jump and run over the screen in such a breakneck pace that you believe this to be part of a music video. Actually, that's nothing new from Nakashima, but this time he really carries it to extremes and a little too far. The fact that the institution's patients sometimes jump into the center of the screen and talk directly into the camera, this concerns Horigome more than anyone else, is more annoying than funny. Why the doctor has a personality that doesn't really differ from any of the patients is also questionable. Nobody in this lunatic asylum is normal, yet nearly none of the over-the-top and wacky scenes is really funny. However, we can't really be sure if there is actually anything that is supposed to be funny or if it's not rather a certain atmosphere that is supposed to be built up this way. In any case, Nakashima can do better than that.

The moments in which the pacing of "Paco and the Magical Picture Book" decreases to a bearable degree are those that work out the best. Onuki's character finally gets illuminated but the rest of the individuals all get their small background stories, too, which are worked into the film quite well and make us sympathize and suffer with the characters. Koji Yakusho ("Shall we Dance?", "University of Laughs" and "Kairo") is almost unrecognizable as the old mean elder and truelly delivers a great performance. The supporting cast consists of Anna Tsuchiya ("Kamikaze Girls") as a violent gothic-style nurse as well as Satoshi Tsumabuki, Sadao Abe and Ryo Kase, all of them being serious actors who have no problems putting on the most ridiculous costumes for director Tetsuya Nakashima, especially model Eiko Koike shows courage to present her most ugly face as a blood-sucking nurse. Ayaka Wilson embodies the small girl Paco and delivers a reservedly cute performance which makes you take her into your heart right away. The way the nature of despicable Onuki changes, an embittered old man who doesn't want to be remembered by anyone, to the likebable uncle finding his animal twin brother in the fairy tale's mean frog prince, trying everything that Paco keeps him in her heart is very touching and is put on screen credibly.

Since we have a fairy tale-like story here the director didn't refrain from implementing the frog and other fairy tale characters in shape of CGI-effects, yes even whole parts of the fairy tale are brought to life and interact with the real world. The border between fantasy, imagination and reality becomes blurry for the characters which gives room for a whole new fairy tale which is "Paco and the Magical Picture Book" after all. The dreamy pictures seem to have originated from a pure children's heart and that's also what's making the emotional moments so honest and touching. Nakashima lets childlike innocence triumph over the cruel and egoistic world of adults and allows the viewer to bathe in a feeling of childlike purity himself which is something that can move us to tears. The movie's flaws, the wacky and at times inadequate scenes are all soon forgotten, what remains is a feeling of spiritual purification.

All of this might in fact sound a bit too spiritual now, but those who watch the movie will know what's meant with these lines without having to think any further than this. Nakashima makes use of fine kitsch (yes, there is also that sort of kitsch), but also doesn't refrain from letting one of the characters die or play a little bit with the film's ending. Somewhere there also seems to be a small wink the director wants to give to his audience, but it doesn't damage the honest warmhearted nature of the film. Moreover, the director once more knows very well how to make use of great music and therefore it's not only the fantastic pictures that are mesmerizing.
"Paco and the Magical Picture Book" is oftentimes too fast-paced and wacky, unfortunately not that funny as it could have been, but all of this doesn't really matter in the end. To give the movie a lower score would be the most obvious thing to do, especially if you compare it to "Memories of Matsuko", but sometimes you have to listen to your heart instead of your mind and my heart tells me that "Paco and the Magical Picture Book" is a charming fairy tale rollercoaster at whose end, when you have wiped off your tears, you will feel like a child again! Thanks for that Tetsuya Nakashima!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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