Review for Mitsuko Delivers
This time last year, we were treated to Yuya Isshi's Sawako Decides, a bittersweet comedy about a young woman who is forced by circumstance to return home, and whose homecoming has a profound effect on her life. This year Third Window Films is bringing us Yuya Isshi's Mitsuko Delivers, a gentle comedy about a young woman who is forced by circumstance to return home, and whose homecoming has a profound effect on her life. You may be sensing something of a theme here. But before you dismiss Mitsuko Delivers, you need to know that its titular character is the diametric opposite of Sawako, and that makes all the difference in the world. Sawako was indecisive, meek and introverted. Mitsuko is positivity and decisiveness incarnate.
Mitsuko's life certainly isn't easy. She's living alone in a Tokyo apartment, is heavily pregnant (with morning sickness that just doesn't let go), and she can't afford the medical bills, let alone her rent. She tries selling all her stuff to raise some cash, only to learn that it's so worthless that she has to pay for its removal. But none of this can alter her positive attitude and her outgoing nature, not even her new neighbour who fails to appreciate her gregariousness. The little change she gets from the removal men, she happily gives to an unemployed salaryman who spends his day in the park outside.
Having parted with her material possessions, she decides to make a change in her life, gets in a taxi, and tells the driver to follow that cloud. The wind points the way home, or rather a place she briefly called home when her parents were first laid low by the collapse of the economy fifteen years previously. It's where she met a rather unique landlady, and picked up her positive attitude. This tenement was the one area in Tokyo that survived the Allied bombing, and it's one area where a traditional sense of community still prospered. These were neighbours that lived loudly, who got under each other's skins, who argued, laughed, fell in love, and cried together. It's where Mitsuko learned that making money, and having a career were all well and good, but didn't mean a thing if you didn't look out for your fellow man. It's also where she met Yoichi, a young boy and heir to his uncle's restaurant, who promised to one day marry her.
Only now, Mitsuko returns to find a rundown and empty row of houses. Almost everyone has moved out, looking for better lives, and the formerly vivacious landlady is now bedridden, paralysed, depressed, and waiting for death. Yoichi's name is now on the restaurant sign, but without the customers, the restaurant barely makes a profit. Seeing this, Mitsuko decides to bring back the spirit that was in the tenement when she was a child, whether anyone wants it or not.
Mitsuko Delivers gets a 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer on an NTSC disc. Additionally it's encoded progressively, so if you have the capability, you can watch it at a very appealing 24 frames per second. The image is clear and sharp throughout, and the subdued palette really enhances the film's production design, capturing a lost in time community in the tenement where Mitsuko spent her childhood. Detail levels are good, and I saw no signs of compression, other than an occasional smidge of aliasing.
There is a bit of a problem with the audio on my check disc. The film should have a DD 5.1 Japanese track, but unfortunately the centre audio channel remains silent throughout, with the dialogue shunted to the left and right front speakers. It has the result of making the film sound a little hollow. Mitsuko Delivers isn't exactly an action packed epic that demands a full blown surround track, but it does have a nice ambience to it, and a gentle music score, and the flaw in the audio is a little disappointing. I got around this by getting my home cinema to down-mix to stereo. Of course if you watch the film through your television's speakers, you won't even notice. The subtitles are free of error and accurately timed throughout.
Mitsuko Delivers gets an animated menu, with the usual options of playing the film with or without subtitles, scene select, and extras.
The extras offer the 2 minute trailer for the film, 10 trailers for further Third Window product, including the forthcoming Kotoko and Himizu, and there is also a weblink.
The most substantial offering on the disc is the Making of Mitusko (sic) Delivers, which lasts 26½ minutes. It's the promo piece from Japan, rather than a piece commissioned by TWF, so it's a lot more light and fluffy. It offers behind the scenes peeks at the filming, clips from the film, and interview sound-bites with the cast and crew. There are a few flaws in this featurette, including dropped frames and jumps in audio, but the subtitles are all present and correct, so you don't miss anything.
Last year it was Sawako Decides, and this year it's Mitsuko Delivers. Both are films from director Yuya Ishii and both tell stories of young women that are forced by circumstance to return home. But far from being redundant, the two films complement each other, are mirror images of each other, approaching their subjects from diametrically opposed viewpoints. Sawako Decides was all about the dullness of everyday life, the mediocrity of existence, and featured a protagonist that was mousy, indecisive and wholly negative, learning that life truly is what you make it, through all the trials and challenges she faced. Mitsuko on the other hand is nothing like that. She's is positivity incarnate, with the way that she approaches life head on, facing every challenge without fear, almost a force of nature. In Mitsuko Delivers, the protagonist is the one constant in the film, and the joy in the film comes in watching the effects that she has on all those around her.
Sawako Decides may have been a realistic fantasy, but Mitsuko Delivers has fewer aspirations towards reflecting reality. It's an urban fairy tale, one that contrasts modern Japanese life, with how life used to be, or rather how people nostalgically recall life being. The tenement where Mitsuko spent some time as a child was a community that wasn't destroyed at the end of the war, and unlike modern neighbourhoods, modern societies where the individual cocoons himself in an isolated bubble; this is a neighbourhood where small houses lay cheek by jowl. It practically demands that neighbours live in each others' pockets, where nosiness and gossip is a virtue, and where everyone knows everyone else. The brief time there had a big effect on Mitsuko, as did the landlady whose effervescent positivity kept the community alive. It's that reason why Mitsuko is a bastion of positivity, even when she's 9-months pregnant, broke, single and homeless.
Not for her any pause to mope and reflect. She decides to take a nap until the wind changes, and to follow a cloud to wherever it leads her. That cloud leads her back to the tenement, where she finds that the sense of community that so inspired her as a little girl didn't last long. Everyone has left, the tenement is a ghost street, and the landlady is bedridden, having lost her sense of hope. Mitsuko decides to restore that hope, and in turn restore the community, and do so through sheer force of personality. The whole film hinges on the character of Mitsuko, and Riisa Naka creates a wonderfully quirky character, pugnacious and empathic, ditzy and determined, with common sense and an off-kilter worldview. Mitsuko is a whole heap of contradictions, yet utterly charming at the same time. She also has this wonderful habit of throwing in the odd English phrase (she told her parents that she's living in California) that adds another layer of quirkiness.
Mitsuko Delivers lacks that realistic observation of humanity that Sawako Decides has, but as a charming fantasy, a vicarious form of wish fulfilment, this film works a treat. Inside, we all wish to have that sense of community, that nostalgic need for simpler days, when people seemed to care more. That wish usually lasts up to the point we actually meet our neighbours, who in this day and age want to be just as walled off as we are. But Mitsuko Delivers fills that nostalgic need, and is well worth watching.