Romaji: Hara Ga Kore Nande
UK Theatrical Release Date: 11th May 2012
Running Time: 109 min.
Director: Yuya Ishii
Writer: Yuya Ishii
Starring: Riisa Naka, Aoi Nakamura, Ryo Ishibashi, Shiro Namiki, Miyoko Inagawa, Miyako Takeuchi, Momoka Oono, Yoshimasa Kondo, Yukijiro Hotaru, Keiko Saito
After watching Yuya Ishii’s 2010 film Sawako Decides I was struck by how his sharp script led to humorous and truthful observations of human nature while his naturalistic direction gave the actors ample room to bring out great comic performances so it was something of a surprise when I found Mitsuko Delivers a shallow experience.
Mitsuko (Naka) is a young woman who is nine-months pregnant, broke and alone in Tokyo. Her parents think that she’s in America with the baby’s GI father but she’s actually in dire straits as she is forced to move out of her apartment and yet she remains positive and believes that things will turn out alright. She hops in a taxi follows a cloud back to the ramshackle and destitute working-class alley where she grew up and finds her arrival and her get-up-and-go attitude soon compel the locals to roll up their sleeves and restore the alley to its former glory. Soon, old sweet-heart Yoichi (Nakamura) and his uncle Jiro (Ishibashi) find their restaurant reinvigorated and old landlady, Kiyo (Inagawa) remembers that Mitsuko was always absent-minded.
Mitsuko is not as saccharine sweet as most “home dramas”, its gentle surrealism gives it an edge but it does not imbue it with a vivid identity of its own. Although we get themes such as the importance of family and a championing of back to basics communitarianism of the past, it is put through Ishii’s filter of quirky, satirical humour. The tenement Mitsuko returns to is an old fashioned place (the only place that survived an air raid during World War II). It is an environment engineered to evoke nostalgia but there is an unexploded bomb lurking to keep things interesting. While the characters’ exist in the reality of a country undergoing economic hardship and wallowing in the past they are stylised, aimed at selling the message that “now more than ever we have to help each other and face the future.”
“Clouds drift so aimlessly, just like people.”
Adding to the slyly rebellious feel is our protagonist Mitsuko who isn’t your stereotypical good Japanese girl – forceful and adventurous, she doesn’t have much common sense but overflows with confidence. She radiates a good nature, living with the belief that she has to “be cool” and help those in need even if they don’t want help or it hurts her. She allows herself to become an object to help others – maid, life-coach – and finds herself aiding life’s losers. That someone in a situation like hers forcefully brings comfort to people who would look down on her provides most of the comedy and life of the film.
Initially it was fun because her bluster and single-mindedness bewilders others and provides inspiration for those (cinema audience included) in difficult times. Her unconventional behaviour cuts through social barriers and forces people to stop dwelling in the past and deal with their present problems – witness the transformation of Kiyo into her fiery former self. Unfortunately it was not enough for me and I wanted more than a satire of home dramas and positive messages.
There were interesting avenues to explore like unemployment and parenthood but the film ducks them all in favour of being light hearted. This being a comedy problems are solved easily and awkward situations – the baby being mixed-race for example – are glided over which felt false. I wanted bite, something to think about like in Ishii’s previous film. While Sawako Decides was also a comedy the titular character overcame shame, lethargy, and gender roles to establish herself and grab hold of her future and in the process you understood who she was. Mitsuko remains frustratingly one-note and opaque and her behavior loses its lustre and feels like nagging that people give in to. If Mitsuko had been allowed a more emotional moment – a scene where it was revealed that all of her beliefs are something she clings onto to get through life it would have flipped the film around and made her complex. But then if I want that I should watch something else. What you get here is a solid comedy.
Riisa Naka, lead voice actress in the anime The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, gives a great performance. She takes a role that demands considerable comic abilities and energy and she gives the film a vibrant life. Her beautiful face is very expressive and she goes through a range of performances even if the script limits her mostly to light comedy. She has established herself as an actress to watch. Ryo Ishibashi (Audition) felt wasted as he is given little to work with as a emotionally shy stoic uncle before being reduced to performing physical comedy for an awkward, unfunny sequence towards the end. Aoi Nakamura (Paranormal Activity 2: Tokyo Night) is also given little to do except play a bewildered love interest. His irritation at Mitsuko’s belligerence might have provided the film with something to explore but like every other character he finds himself swept up in Mitsuko’s wake. In truth this is Naka’s film.
Being in the presence of Mitsuko initially left me charmed but I soon grew tired of the script’s refusal to become complex. That’s not the point of the film. This is a high energy movie that sticks within the safe zone of light satire. Those looking for a comedy will be well served especially from the great central performance from Naka but there was little meat to keep me interested for the entire duration.
Mitsuko Delivers hits selected cinemas across the UK at the end of this week.