Film: Mitsuko Delivers
UK Release date: 11th May 2012
UK Distributor: Third Window Films
Director: Yuya Ishii
Starring: Riisa Naka, Aoi Nakamura, Ryo Ishibashi, Yukijiro Hotaro, Miyoko Inagawa
Running time: 109 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
“When the wind blows your way, go with it.” Mitsuko Delivers is the new film from Yuya Ishii (Sawako Decides), starring Riisa Naka (Love Strikes!), Aoi Nakamura (Quirky Guys & Gals) and Ryo Ishibashi (Audition). Ishii is certainly making a name for himself; Sawako Decides won the Best Director accolade at the Blue Ribbon Awards, and the Best New Director Award at the Yokohama Film Festival. Hikari Mitsushima led an impressive cast in an enjoyable comedy drama that encouraged you to embrace the mediocrity of life and overcome it. Flawed yet fruitful, Sawako Decides was overlong and inconsequential, but it was also blessed with enough quirky charm to see it through.
His latest release, Mitsuko Delivers, takes similar themes and waltzes amongst the clouds with them. Mitsuko (Riisa Naka) is in the closing stages of her pregnancy to an African-American guy she met in California. Her parents think she’s still in America but she’s actually back home, living in a rundown flat with no money and no friends. She’s a girl of simple pleasures; somebody that gets by on power naps, being ‘cool’ (doing right by people) and following clouds. That’s right, folks, the clouds are what guide her in life, apparently. So you wont be surprised to learn that she gets her flat cleaned up, jumps in a taxi (that she can’t afford to pay for), and follows a cloud back to the working class alley she grew up in.
It’s a desperate state of affairs to be honest, and the tenants are either going crazy or clinically depressed. Luckily for them Mitsuko is as stubborn as they come, and her bull in a china shop attitude will come in handy if she’s going to make them happy again. The little diner is in need of customers, the alley’s elderly owner needs carers, and a tongue-tied gentleman needs help with wooing the widow at the local coffee shop. Mitsuko sure has a lot of things to do, but she’s not going to let the arrival of her baby get in the way of helping others. Not unless the clouds tell her differently. Mitsuko Delivers takes us on a simple journey, a light-hearted comedy about a girl’s quest to be assertive while all around her are floundering. It’s available on U.K. shores this month courtesy of Third Window Films.
In terms of style, pacing and themes, nothing much has changed since Sawako Decides. Much like its predecessor, Mitsuko Delivers is a leisurely take on life, knee deep in quirky characterisations and the occasional comedy interlude. Hikari Mitsushima steered Sawako through some bumpy terrain, softening the blow of a slow burning drama that dragged its heels from time to time. With Mitsushima at the wheel, Ishii was able to avoid leaving a potentially restless audience disengaged. Unfortunately, with Riisa Naka in the drivers seat, he’s not quite as successful. Her performance is solid and not without charm - even if she can be a little overbearing at times - but she doesn’t carry the film as well as Mitsushima did. Having said that, her comedy timing is impeccable, even if you do feel the urge to shake most of the characters at one point or another – Mitsuko’s bossy protagonist included.
The term ‘comedy drama’ is a little misleading because Mitsuko Delivers is rarely laugh out loud funny. In truth, it doesn’t really find its feet until the second act, and by that time you may have already chosen to follow another cloud. It is in fact a drawn out drama – that feels longer than it actually is - blessed with solid performances and the occasional dry line. The pace is slow and the outcome won’t change the world, but you already know if this is your thing or not. There are lots of quirky Japanese dramas being released at the moment, and despite the best of intentions, Mitsuko Delivers doesn’t really compete. For me, it’s a step back for director Yuya Ishii (Sawako felt sharper), a movie that languishes in the depths of mediocrity all too often. Important issues are dropped in favour of quirky sidesteps and the film lacks punch as a result. Had Ishii dug a little deeper he may have struck gold, but there’s not a lot to take hold of here, and second helpings seem highly unlikely.
Riisa Naka’s screen-hogging performance does grow on you as the story unfolds, but rather predictably, Mitsuko Delivers is as lightweight as the clouds in the sky above.