There’s something of a boom in the flow of oddball comedies reaching our shores from the land of the rising Sun. Whilst many have won over their home grown audiences, the translation often finds them treading the line between indie and irritating. Mistuko Delivers, the 2011 release by Yuya Ishii, the writer and director of Sawako Decides, is rife with such cultural exclusivities, but its central focus on drama universal to all mankind, from babies to being broke, means it’s a far more accessible and hilarious piece.
Having got herself knocked up by a Californian boyfriend, the eponymous Mitsuko (played by Naka Riisa from the recent The Girl Who Leap Through Time films) has not a penny to her name; she literally gave them to a depressed salaryman. Homeless, she ventures to the oddly rural Tokyo apartment block she grew up in, and runs into the remaining old faces from her past, who it seems have done as little growing up as she’s done. As she prepares for her baby’s arrival she attempts to build, repair and burn the bridges in their lives.
It’s really hard to imagine any film in the Western world producing laughs like these. Stretching the human failures beyond breaking point would normally cripple any script, but Yuya Ishii gives plot resolutions a unique intersection which makes it a ‘feel good… and also a bit awkward’ sort of movie. The best gutbusters arrive in the film’s final sequences when Mistuko is in labour; with the ragtag onlookers arguing who would be most capable to deliver a baby based on their modest sex lives, and Mistuko’s new love interest, with his woman just a few meters away, giving a pep talk to his uncle after he trips over.
The piece is a sum of many parts, with a rough and bare cinematography that matches the economic strife at the story’s heart and adding a miniscule sense of scale to the events, editing that’s not as over the top as in, say, Tetsuya Nakashima’s movies but still carries itself as a character and a score that’s at times distracting but more often incredibly appropriate.
In part a satire, the films only weaknesses lie in its loss within the English language. Where this is most plain is in the frequent reference to a Japanese word for admirable kindness that can only be expressed as ‘cool’. However after a while most audience members will see the word’s usage, even if they don’t quite hear of its importance. Likewise some of the oddities come from the role Japanese women and broke business men play in contemporary society, which, though impressive to address in a single movie, require an almost encyclopaedic knowledge.
Through miniscule acts of kindness the film adequately establishes Mistuko’s character; a helping heroine who barely bats an eyelid over her current predicament. She seems fed up with the world that her child is to be born in, but rather fear for its future she endeavours to improve it in her own subtle ways. Naka Riisa’s starring performance is a testament to her ever rising talent and popularity, with manic outbursts occasionally leaking out of a mostly straight faced pregnant suit.
The rest of the cast of quirkies are also quite brilliant. High above is the militaristic landlady, her facets (seen in the film’s frequent flashbacks) passed on to Mistuko like one of her many bomb ridden apartments. On the subject, Mistuko’s hapless parent’s don’t seem to do well with the knowledge that their new digs is potentially explosive… or would seem do well with anything in their lives; one of Japanese cinema’s most fun-to-watch hapless guardians.
Mitsuko Delivers both in good pun opportunities for this review but also as a unique, well acted and constructed mood lifter. It’s not the wallbreaker for the UK into Japanese indie comedies, but to those familiar to recent Third Window Releases this is hardly the reason to quit now.
Words > Graham Ashton