out of Five
Running time: 108
A Japanese indie movie full of surprises with a wickedly individual female lead and a timely commentary on economic hardship.
What’s it all about?
Militantly individual, utterly batty Mitsuko (Riisa Naka) is nine months pregnant by an American man whom she followed to California before dumping her. Penniless and back in Tokyo, she does what she always does, gazes up at a cloud and asks a taxi driver to follow it. The taxi deposits her at the door of landlady and mentor Kiyo (Miyoko Inagawa) in the run-down neighbourhood where she grew up.
There we learn more about the philosophy behind Mitsuko’s bizarre lifestyle choices, about her desire to always be ‘cool’ and help people out. Unhappy with what she sees around her, Mitsuko takes it on herself to fix the broken neighbourhood and the lives of its sad, lonely tenants, starting with Yoichi (Aoi Nakamura) who has loved her since they were young and whom she agrees to marry.
Just like its feisty protagonist, Ishii Yuya’s film is one of a kind (albeit perhaps not the kind for everyone). Mitsuko’s actions at the start of the film, as she barges into a stranger’s house bearing pickles, are of the head-scratching variety, but bear with it, and all will become clear as she voices her mantras and embarks on her mission to save her old neighbourhood.
The eccentricities of her character are extremely well observed through the script and excellently played out by Naka. Ishii’s film doesn’t always have its head in the clouds though, as it’s thoughtfully attune to the fallout from the economic crisis, depicting as it does empty streets and restaurants, and a motley crew of sufferers from clueless restaurant owners and unemployed office workers hiding from their families to debt-ridden couples fleeing their creditors.
So absorbing is Naka’s presence, that when Mitsuko isn’t on screen, the film does start to wilt slightly. The soundtrack of chirpy violin strings also begins to grate after a while.
Whether Mitsuko delivers or not will depend on your tolerance for whimsy. If you’re finding it all too much, you can always follow Mitsuko’s advice: “When the wind isn’t blowing your way, take a nap.” But if oddball, offbeat comedies are what you long for, follow the next cloud to the nearest cinema.