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Mitsuko Delivers – Review

by Olivia Saperstein

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From an outsider’s perspective, Mitsuko is in trouble. She was impregnated by an American who dumped her, and now she’s living penniless in Japan while her parents believe she is still in California. Unsure of whereabouts to go, Mitsuko is decidedly laid back, as she decides to take a nap on a park bench, and then travel “where the wind takes her.”  Upon returning to Kiyoshi, the landlord who raised her in the slums where she grew up, she is reunited with friends and her childhood courtier, Yoichi.

Mitsuko Delivers provides the same kind of stretched romantic comedy fodder as does Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011) in the West. Bickering family members, cultural archetypes, and overused catch phrases are the brunt of the film’s slaphappy sentiment. Despite its attempts to expose a harsh economic reality, it’s the kind of story that failingly tries to convince you to suspend disbelief. Mitusko’s optimism and empathy is an admirable trait, but one superficially played.

In one scene Mitusko is traveling and runs into Saito, (Yoshimasa Kondo) a man that she has seen on the news, who she knows is in the pits financially. Upon recognizing him it seems that Mitsuko is crying, but it is indecipherable whether the character is feigning sadness or if it’s just poor performance. Caricature acting is hardly revolutionary for Japan, and it remains as a thread in the film—in Mitsuko’s anxious and bumbling parents, in the irrational ferocity of Kiyoshi, and in the expressionless sobriety of Yoichi as he longs for Mitusko from afar.

The dialogue is trite and repetitive, the crux of the comedy in little known phrase “that’s cool.” Apparently, Kiyoshi has taught Mitsuko from a young age that it’s okay to be poor as long as she has a carefree attitude, thus the young girl grew up caring little of the trouble that came her way. “All we poor folks have left is our humanity and living ‘cool.'” The overuse of said frigid term browns as fast as an apple, leaving a stale lingering taste.

The film is two chords shy of the sort of comedy that Japan blows up, and that’s low-budget exploitative gross-out adventures like Noboru Iguchi’s Zombie Ass (2011). We get glimpses of that in Mitusko Delivers, as when the old Kiyoshi mentions that she never got to do anything “nasty,” with her husband, but these moments are awkwardly placed and puzzling. Instead the actors rumble like kabuki-clowns, a missed chance at informed humor sold off to buffoonery.

The sepia tones of each frame reflect a disadvantaged community, but only add to the movie’s expiration. Such lighthearted banter should be painted with a colorful palette–one that keeps us engaged. The attempt to create a bereft feeling contrasts with the lighthearted optimism of the plot, and thus disrupts the wholeness of the picture.

The statement being made that regardless of ones social upbringing, one can still live a positive existence that benefits others, unfortunately that had to come at the cost of detriment. Independent director Yuya Ishii has leapt into something more mainstream, in comparison to his past projects like Bare Assed Japan (2007), yet takes on a similar rom-com mythos, yet without its indie charm—instead holding this strange “in between” place.

However, Mitsuko does deliver something that other films fail to: a lack of female victimization and a possession of agency. Could this be the Juno (2007) of Japan? While Mitsuko has surely found herself in dyer circumstances, her positive, laid-back attitude is unrealistically overt, yet refreshingly liberated. Rather than placing a man at the center of her existence, she free-floats. And let’s be honest, a Japanese girl shacking up with a beefy black man—not something common to any cinematic narrative; an effectually badass twist. Rarely do we come across a woman character in cinema that is so resilient and undefeated, yet without lacking emotion. Clearly time has passed since Osaka Elegy (1936).

Mitusko’s liberation, though, seems less grounded and carries a sad elusiveness. Her attitude is simple-minded; whispy, rather than grounded in a solid wisdom, which weakened the films sturdy and respectable message that “the least we can do is help each other” regardless of how much we have. Its scattered energy took away from the potency of parable rendering Mitusko’s continual naps the right idea.

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Author: Olivia Saperstein

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