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DVD Review

DVD cover

Memories of Matsuko


Starring: Miki Nakatani and Eita
Third Window Films
RRP: £14.99
Certificate: 15
Available 26 January 2009

Languishing in his own hell pit of porn and alcohol fuelled self pity, following another relationship break-up, Sho is unexpectedly visited by his estranged father who is carrying the ashes of a murdered aunt he never even knew he had. Spurred on to do something else he tracks down her friends and acquaintances to uncover an extraordinary life story of his idealistic aunt whose one misguided act of compassion leads to her slow decline and murder…

Memories of Matsuko (Kiraware Matsuko no Isshô - 2006, 2 hrs, 10 min, 13 sec) is a tragic-comedy directed by Tetsuya Nakashima, adapted by the director from the original novel by Muneki Yamada. The film won eleven awards and was nominated for a further eight.

It’s a very difficult film to categorise; it is part musical, part gritty drama and part comedy. The film's opening section is a montage of Matsuko’s life which appears meaningless at first. It is the need to know how a respected teacher came to end her life - bloated and mad, living in her own garbage - that drives Sho’s journey of discovery in an attempt to know his aunt.

For the most part the film follows a linier path though often when Sho starts a sequence of recollections about his aunt’s life, there will be a further recollection from Matsko herself. Each portion of Matsuko’s life is thematically and stylistically different, often with more than a hint of the surreal. When we are introduced to Matsuko, aged seven, this is presented in the same hyper-reality seen in Pushing Daisies, with bright primary colours.

Matsuko lives at home with her father, brother and sick sister Kumi, forever trying to gain the attention of her father, who is more concerned by his other ailing daughter. When, as a young teacher, she tries to protect her young student Ryu who has been accused of stealing money, she takes money from her roommates purse to try and pay it back, only to find herself accused of stealing both sets of money. Disgraced she is rejected by her family. What follows is her slow descent from hostess to prostitute murderer, through a series of abusive relationships, to her final years filled with madness despair and her own eventual meaningless murder.

Although this sounds like I’m selling a really bad night in, this couldn’t be further from the point. Whilst the film deals with some of the most unpleasant aspects of being a powerless woman, it is a strangely uplifting experience and by the end of the movie you’ll have learnt to forgive some of the life choices Matsuko made to see her bright inner being.

Apart from the impressive cinematography and a soundtrack which presents a mixed bag of Japanese religious music, mawkish tracks and the engaging theme song, the laurels have to go to Miki Nakatani’s amazing portrayal of Matsuko - who gets to showcase just about every aspect of acting and does it flawlessly.

The film has options for both Japanese 2.0 and 5.1 with subtitles. For extras you get the obligatory Making of featurette (30 min, 28 sec) with the director being particularly coy when discussing the film, which to be honest is fair enough as the it has to be watched as in many respects it defies description. You also get a comparison between the story boards and the finished article (12 min, 38 sec). Lastly there are trailers for thirteen other Japanese films.

The only thing that lets the film down is the overly sweet ending, but then that’s just a matter of my taste, otherwise a film well worth catching up with.


Charles Packer

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