Third Window Films
If you asked her parents how their daughter Mitsuko is doing, they’d tell you that’s she’s living happily in California with her American boyfriend. Unbeknownst to them however, Mitsuko returned to Tokyo some months ago and has been living frugally in a rundown apartment block. Dumped, broke and heavily pregnant (something else she hasn’t told her parents), Mitsuko is at a loss what do next, so in her idiosyncratic way she looks to the skies for guidance. Following a cloud, she finds herself at the row of cheap tenement housing she once lived in as a child when her parents hit upon hard times. People have grown older, obviously, but other than that very little has changed in the tiny, self-sufficient neighbourhood. Has something brought Mitsuko ‘home’ for a reason? Perhaps she’s needed here as much as she needs somewhere to be.
Mitsuko shares a lot in common with previous Ishii leading lady Sawako in that both are slightly aimless, lost young women trying to their path and purpose in life. Mitsuko however has a slight advantage with her can-do attitude and self-confident approach to life. Taking frequent power naps to decide on a course of action, Mitsuko makes her choice and goes for it come hell or high water. Where Sawako might have moped and waited for a solution to present itself, Mitsuko grabs the bull by the horns and bullies it into going exactly where she wants it. If Sawako Decides was celebration of the art of making do, Mitsuko Delivers is very much in support of the concept of just getting on with things.
The pre-war tenement street might be something of a lost world, but its tightly knit community operates more like an extended family with everyone trying to take care of each other. Mitsuko’s arrival is something of a catalyst for change as she quickly sets about trying to fix everyone’s problems (whether they wanted them fixed or not). The once fearsome landlady, from whom Mitsuko learned her reliance on the code of doing the ‘cool’ thing, is now bedridden and defeated. The uncle of Mitsuko’s childhood friend has been in love with the coffee shop owner opposite for over fifteen years but has been too shy to declare himself; besides which the cafe he and his nephew run has barely any customers. Mitsuko might be slightly overbearing and actually kind of a bully, but her heart is definitely in the right place and her desire to save absolutely everyone threatens to leave no one unscathed.
Into this quirky, charming comedy Ishii has also been able to weave his usual layer of social commentary. Mitsuko’s empathic nature is signalled early on when she’s reduced to tears by the sad tale of a dispossessed salaryman who spends his days in the park because he can’t bring himself to tell his wife that he’s lost his job. It’s clear the economic downturn has taken its toll on everyone; even Mitsuko’s parents’ pachinko parlour seems to have hit another rough patch. Nevertheless, that’s not a reason to give up and if there’s one talent Mitsuko possesses it’s perseverance.
Similarly, there are the various social stigmas which Mitsuko finds herself the victim of. For starters she’s unmarried and pregnant, perhaps not as much of a crime as it might once have been but certainly frowned upon. If merely being pregnant wasn’t enough of a problem the child’s father is a foreigner, whom she can’t seem to remember very much about other than he was ‘really big’ and ‘really black’. Mitsuko and her as yet unborn child may not be in for the easiest of rides, and as she tells her bump at the end they’ll have to depend on each other to get themselves through.
Fans of Ishii’s previous films will find this another enjoyable foray into his comically surreal world. However, it is a little too similar in form to Sawako Decides. Perhaps it’s a bit unfortunate that the English titles for the two films are so similar, though they do suit their respective films very well. Despite this though Mitsuko Delivers is actually slightly superior - it’s much more polished and has much better production values than Ishii’s earlier film. I’d like to see Ishii branch out a bit and tackle slightly more original subject matter, but Mitsuko Delivers is certainly a very funny and entertaining film that all fans of Japanese comedy will enjoy.
Mitsuko Delivers is being screened at London's ICA Cinema from May 11th-24th 2012