HIFF Report: Memories of Matsuko Review
[I'm just taking a brief moment to check my email before heading off for another full day at Toronto After Dark - expect full reports on yesterday's happenings from Mack and Canfield soon - and what should I find but the first report from our man on the scene at the Hawaii International Film Festival, James Maruyama. Here's James with his take on one of our most anticipated films around here, Memories of Matsuko.]
Aloha from the Hawaii International Film Festival! With each passing year I am continually impressed by the scope, quality and variety of the films shown at the annual festival. In years past, HIFF has hosted and screened an amazing range of films with a particular emphasis on Asia's beautiful and eclectic cinema. In fact, I can safely say that HIFF is probably the premiere venue in the U.S. for showcasing the best in Asian Movies.
This year is no exception. One of the movies I've was lucky enough to watch was director Nakashima Tetsuya's "Kiraware Matsuko No Issho" (The Life of Hateful Matsuko AKA Memories of Matsuko). Nakashima is quickly becoming one of my favorite up-and-coming Japanese directors. His sleeper hit "Shimotsuma Monogatari" (AKA Kamikaze Girls) was a crowd favorite at last year’s HIFF and his sophomore project is sure to become another festival hit.
Visually stunning and touchingly poignant, "Memories of Matsuko" follows the crazy and often times tragic life of Kawajiri Matsuko, a woman whose unshakable will to survive, even in the face of unbearable adversity and tragedy is truly inspiring.
While comparisons to Robert Zemeckis's "Forrest Gump" are unavoidable, I think "Memories of Matsuko" is more like a darker version of the acclaimed 1983 NHK drama series "Oshin" which told a similar story about the trials and tribulations of a young woman who escaped poverty to become a wealthy store owner. Matsuko's emotional journey follows as similar path albeit more tragic, and one in which she continually falls into abusive relationships and failed love affairs spanning three decades yet, as in "Oshin", even when it seems that Matsuko has lost everything, she still manages to hold on to her dreams using humor, the gift of music and an undying sense of hope.
Nakatani Miki ("Ring", "Rasen", "Densha Otoko") truly shines as Matsuko and her chameleon-like ability to change her look throughout the various decades (50s, 60s, 70s and the 80s) is amazing to watch as is her effortless ability to switch from drama to comedy. She is supported by a great cast including Ichikawa Mikako ("Cutie Honey"), Kurosawa Asuka ("Kirei"), Eita ("Azumi", "Densha Otoko"), Iseya Yusuke ("Casshern"), Emoto Akira (“Waterboys”, “Great Yokai War”) and Gori ("Nin x 3 Hattori Kun").
The film is framed almost like a dark “fairy tale” but Nakashima still manages to infuse his unique sense of visual wonder and comedy into the mix. There are brilliant moments where the film takes on an almost surreal feel--incorporating 2-D Disney-like animation, CGI and elaborate musical numbers which are reminiscent of the film "Moulin Rouge".
The musical soundtrack is wonderful and successfully captures the themes of lost innocence and heartbreak. It's amazing how Nakashima is able to work in Japan's diverse musical history, from childhood lullabies to disco to Enka and Hip Hop into the soundtrack.
While the film is very Japanese in style, the overall message of the film (perseverance in the face of adversity) are very much universal. I was also surprised by some of the western religious themes (the message of hope and salvation) that was also in the film.
Despite the ironic Japanese title, there is nothing hateful about “Matsuko” at all. It’s a bitter-sweet drama/comedy that will make you cry but will also touch your heart in a way few movies do.
Review by James Maruyama