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

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