Review for Nakashima's 'Memories of Matsuko' (2006) from the HK DVD.
Let's make no mistake - this film is, by all general appearances, a pop song and its accompanying 130 minute promo video. This is the latest film from the Director of the wonderful 'Kamikaze Girls' (2004), that sees Nakashima working with someone else's material other than his own but giving a recognisable portrayal none the less. More money to play with, more detail and layers within the film, and, I think, something quite positively deceptive in its approach and results.
It should hopefully go without saying that both good and bad, being opinions held in variation by all individuals leads to there being both good and bad in any given genre, country of origin or other possible aspect of a given piece of work... Now, although this movie does represent (on the surface of it) many aspects that can be described as basic triggers of pleasure in the average viewer, it being very colorful and quite cursory with it's descriptions and portrayals - and it does have several decades or more to cover. The path we follow shifts around dramatically from more moral lifestyles into more questionable territory with great ease as a result of it's ability to leave behind what was never entirely securely established.
I would expect that not many (if any) can deny liking at least one or more pop songs - this is because there is the possibility for any given genre to contain both good and bad, and because there's hidden wisdom in all kinds of various places. The film itself is described by Nakashima as something which is preferably defined as a comedy-drama which provokes varied reactions from the audiences within the same scenes - some laugh, some cry at the comedy within the tragedy - but still, films such as this, although what you might typically expect from a Japan often portrayed as all too keen on vibrant visuals and shallow entertainment storytelling, more than any other genre we've perhaps regularly or readily experiences, can be counted easily on one fully-fingered hand, by my experience.
Matsuko, born into a family with a disabled younger sister and a doting father, struggles hard to build the relationships with give her the security she desires in her youth. Beyond her childhood is where the very large majority of the film takes place, and we see the signs of her childhood insecurities bubble to the surface. Brief flashback show the strong connection between childhood trauma and adult decision-making, and the subsequent cycle of continuing trauma that results from it; this is where the expected intentional lack of sympathy for a situation ultimate of her direct creation and the unexpected new-found sympathy of showing life is never quite so clear-cut is asked of the viewer, it's where the contradictory elements come in. All her relationships are out of her emotional necessity, to avoid being alone in the world rather than any possible mutual desire or requirement of any kind. Matsuko inadvertently has selfish objectives to seek a father figure and makes bad choices on a regular basis because of this.
Nakashima's film, an adaptation from a book written by a female writer, potentially blends both male and female views on this familiar way of living - the story begins at the end and returns to Matsuko's origins to trace the path through her turbulent life, along the way we get what is essentially a parody of the cliches both within relationship films and life itself. Yes, it's a tragedy, but it's told with great sympathy and humor, and intends to teach the audience or remind them of the necessity to be sensitive towards those in less fortunate situations. It doesn't entirely get sentimental, and it doesn't drown itself in sorrow or pity, managing as it does to tell the story essentially in a comedic manner, and so this is where the bittersweet aspects come from.
Peppering the story with songs (on one level this is a musical), using a lot of flash techniques to make the on-screen action highly colorful, visually bold, often detailed too, Nakashima does confirm his Television Commercial background with great ease. Beyond this generalisation of human nature, though, there lies an emotionally wrenching, touching tale. It perhaps fits preconceptions of relationship films as well as regularly managing to display great imagination, insight, and understanding. This takes the films beyond its apparent cliches and pop video approach into a much more layered, variable story that has many great aspects of interest hidden within it. Yes, the truncation is necessary and it's also one key aspect of films I've often found questionably manipulative, but it's a spiral or descent into chaos shown in reverse, farcical and touching in great measures that requires or exploits one negative aspect to give a lesson in life than, although clearly not unfamiliar, is sharply told. It's great fun, on one level not particularly original; on many others it's something quite special, smart.
The HK DVD which was issued very recently is a two-disc affair. Firstly, the Picture and Sound quality on the feature itself are just superb, the translation flawless as far as I can tell. Disc Two, although containing only around 60 minutes or so of additional material (making-of feature as the longest part - fascinating-but-brief behind-the-scenes from the Directors perspective from the two-month-long shoot which reveals unexpected tensions within the production - plus a couple of short interviews with Miki Nakatani (Matsuko) and Nakashima again) actually suffers from broken English translation as you might predict as possible from an HK DVD. I would suspect the features translation, Americanised in its spelling as it is, was prepared long in advance and the features are a nice-but-ill-considered late addition. This looks like a port of the unsubbed R2 Japanese DVD, I would have happily parted with what would have been several times the money for that disc at the time of its release.
Great film, and I look forwards to more from Nakashima in the future - a Director that flies in the face of what I am usually looking for, but one who does it in such a convincing, relatively deep fashion that it makes his work worth watching. Yes, although this doesn't clearly tap into many youth culture aspects that likely gave 'Kamikaze Girls' its young audience, and although the approach in 'Memories of Matsuko' is similar for it's visuals, it's a maturation of storytelling and filmmaking that's intentionally looking for an older audience but which can also find ways of touching those open to its charms.