Review: ‘Memories of Matsuko’

Genres and CGI technology collide in a musical parody of Japanese melodramas about fallen women in the sleek but soulless "Memories of Matsuko." An adventurous distrib could reap surprise dividends, but more likely pic is headed for cult status on ancillary and at Asian-themed fests where style is revered over substance.

Genres and CGI technology collide in a musical parody of Japanese melodramas about fallen women in the sleek but soulless “Memories of Matsuko.” While pic is a showcase for the versatility of thesp Miki Nakatani in the titular role, the real star is the never-ending onslaught of colorful visuals that reveal traces of touchstones “Amelie” and “Moulin Rouge!” An adventurous distrib could reap surprise dividends, but more likely pic is headed for cult status on ancillary and at Asian-themed fests where style is revered over substance. In Japan, film garnered respectable biz in the face of “The Da Vinci Code” juggernaut in May.

Drowning in a sea of booze and porn in the wake of a recent relationship break-up, 20-year-old Sho (Eita) is visited at his Tokyo apartment by his estranged father. Dad presents him with the white-boxed ashes of a recently murdered aunt that Sho never knew he had. Hoping a mission will give his miserable life renewed purpose, Sho begins an investigation of his mysterious Aunt Matsuko’s life.

Speaking with a myriad of her acquaintances, from a timid punk rocker to a rich and vivacious porn star, Matsuko’s nephew, like “Citizen Kane’s” faceless reporter, puts together a history of her life’s narrative arc encompassing her diverse roles in life from unfavored child, virtuous school teacher, prison inmate, devoted wife, yakuza moll, up to her ultimate end as a mentally disturbed bag lady.

Witnesses’ stories are often hi-jacked by the deceased Matsuko so it is her voiceover that dominates.

Helmer has a lot of cynical fun at his subject’s expense along the way, but pic’s bid for near-religious significance in the sentimental finale is as either a misfired joke or as phony as a 3,000 yen bill.

While the story fails to convince as either humor or drama, perfs are generally strong. Nakatani shines in a variety of scenes, where hair, make-up and costume technicians adapt her beauty to a wide array of styles. The only scenes that call for a serious thesping stretch are her bag lady sequences, but as the actress is consumed by her fat suit and shaggy wig, it is impossible to judge her abilities.

Multiple visual effects and flamboyant production values are an undeniable knockout; however, their contribution to the narrative clearly signals helmer’s experience in glossy advertising. Other tech credits are impressive.

Memories of Matsuko

Japan

Production

An Amuse Soft Entertainment production, in association with Tokyo Broadcasting Committee. (International sales: Tokyo Broadcasting System Inc., Tokyo.) Produced by Yuji Ishida, Hidemi Satami. Executive producers, Masayuki Miyashita, Kunikatsu Kondo, Yoshio Hosono, Toru Kenjo, Yoshishige Shimatani, Yasuhiro Mase, Keita Kodama. Directed, written by Tetsuya Nakashima based on a novel by Muneki Yamada.

Crew

Camera (color), Shoichi Ato; editor, Yoshiyuki Koike; music, Gabriele Roberto; art director, Towako Kuwajima; VFX, Masahide Yanagase; sound (Dolby Digital), Junichi Shima. Reviewed at Pusan Film Festival (A Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 13, 2006. Running time: 129 MIN.

With

Matsuko Kawajiri - Miki Nakatani Sho Kawajiri - Eita Ryu Yoichi - Yusuko Iseya Kumi Kawajiri - Mikako Ichikawa Megumi Sawamura - Asuka Kurosawa Tsenehiro Kawajiri - Akira Emoto
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