Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Memories of Matsuko

Spanning a little over 2 hours, Kiraware Matsuko no Issho (more commonly known as Memories of Matsuko) came out in late May of 2006 to Japanese audiences, sweeping up some awards in its native land that year. The movie is a dark musical comedy about a woman whose life gets progressively worse as time goes on. Captivating, colourful, and quirky as hell, it was certainly a trip.

Matsuko herself is a very varied, interesting character. A woman of many faces.

The movie opens with the titular character's nephew, Sho, receiving a call from his father asking him to clean out his Aunt Matsuko's apartment. They both live in Tokyo, and as Matsuko has recently died, Sho's father wants a relative to go through her things. His father, while coming to retrieve the ashes, has other obligations and was estranged from his older sister, wanting nothing to do with her in life or death. Sho, through sifting through her garbage and getting second-hand accounts of Matsuko's few friends, learns of an interesting, if extremely sad, life.

The movie is told via a cast of eclectic characters.

From the start the movie pokes fun at itself. The colour palette, the special effects, even some of the music are there to subvert the horrible events and make light of the gloomy atmosphere Matsuko is thrust into. The musical numbers in particular are campy as all hell and push it into the over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek catagory of black comedies. It also gets a nice, wide range of musical diversity in there, with everything from Japanese hip hop to classic jazz sung by Michael Bublé.

So saturated is the movie that even the most benign of backgrounds gets a watercolour bath.

If Matsuko being dead wasn't enough, other people die over the course of the movie, get beat up, or are put into overtly sexual situations, meaning that even with joyful little numbers like 'Happy Wednesday', this is not a movie that should be shown to young children. If anything, the happy little numbers only add to the sarcasm the movie has, so even if it DIDN'T have the objectionable content it still wouldn't be good for children, since it would likely go over their heads.

Amidst the cutesy atmosphere is an underlying grit of domestic violence and hopelessness.

Matsuko is a movie I have returned to see again and again. Though it never received a North American release, Matsuko did see a DVD and Blu-Ray release in the UK by Third Window Films, meaning getting a copy is as easy as going on Amazon or googling for a torrent. If you search, you can also find it in languages other than English or Japanese, but be warned that live-action movie torrents will often pop up on dubious sites. Use good judgement!

Through it all, Matsuko never really seems to lose the spirit of that little girl inside.

4-4.5/5

Monday, March 23, 2015

Kaiba


Premiering in Spring of 2008, Madhouse's Kaiba is a 12-episode anime series that is described as "a sci-fi love story". Though it lives up to this standard, it paints a very confusing picture along the way, both visually and metaphorically. Still, it made for an engaging watch, meaning that even if i couldn't understand it, i could still enjoy it.

It at least has the romance it describes, even if it's hard to find.

In a distant future, law and order have fallen to pieces as technology has advanced to the point where memories can be stored as digital information. People buy and sell their bodies, using memory chips to ensure their consciousness will live on after they die. Electric clouds blanket the sky, destroying any memories that pass through; above is the realm of the rich and spoiled, while below is the realm of the poor and hungry. Enter Kaiba, a memoryless boy who wanders the stars searching for answers for himself, and for the woman in the locket around his neck.

A portion of the show is done in flashback, which only adds to the pile of evidence that there are no "Good" guys and "Bad" guys.

Kaiba attracted me from the start with its super-unique visual style. It's arty, it's interesting, and weirdly enough it looks a little like a western cartoon (or even French). Everything moves and flows beautifully, and it all looks like a modernistic painting. I was even contemplating showing this to the kids i mentor, and asked people about it--and i'm glad i did, as an acquaintance explained why this is CERTAINLY not for kids.

Body-swapping is extremely common in this show, but with a different angle due to the memories. Both the girl and the hippo belong to Kaiba, additionally, and neither are the original body.

Despite its style, Kaiba deals with some VERY adult subject matter. (Not to spoil too much, but someone actually gets sexed to death in episode 2. Not kidding.) Even getting past the graphic and the gorey, the plot is something that likely wouldn't be easy for kids to grasp, either, having the politics of memory-trading and corruption come into play. I'm a grown-ass woman and i had trouble understanding it at times. Mind you, that's also due to purposeful ambiguity, but that only adds to my point.

This show also plays on the "friends are foes and vice versa" idea, making it that much more difficult to wrap ones' head around.

If the visuals weren't enthralling enough, they also chose to engage us with the music. Before i even watched the series i had the opening ("Never" by Seira Kagami) on my music player, and knew all the words. It's a real feast for the eyes and ears, and if you're into conspiracy subplots and intrigue, then a feast for the mind, too.

Picking sides isn't really a thing you can do in this show, either.

Overall, despite the feeling of disorientation at the end of it all, Kaiba did not disappoint in the slightest. I DO wish they had followed it up with some more material (a manga, an OVA, a second series, whatever), but i suppose having it is enough, and maybe on the second or third watch i'll feel a little more fulfilled since i may understand the action better. As such, please, PLEASE don't show this to kids. Some adults may not even like it--that sex scene in episode 2 goes on for QUITE a while.

Seriously, it's pretty bad.

3.5-4/5