Yûya Ishii’s Mitsuko Delivers (2011) tells the story of a young single woman in the ninth month of her pregnancy who relinquishes her fate to the wind, drifting through life like a wayward cloud. Starring Riisa Naka, Aoi Nakamura and Ryo Ishibashi, Ishii’s latest feature is a quintessential slice of contemporary Japanese cinema with a refreshing, original twist.
Mitsuko (Naka) may well be in the final trimester of her pregnancy but she still hasn’t admitted to her hopeless family that she’s no longer living in California, but instead friendless and broke back in her home town of Tokyo. One morning whilst noticing a change in direction of the wind she jumps into a taxi cab that she can’t afford and instructs the driver to follow the only cloud in an otherwise clear sky. It leads her to an impoverished working-class community in the back alleys of Tokyo and Mitsuko, with her headstrong personality, soon begins to shake the residents out of their slump of despair. But with so much to do and with so little time before she goes into labour how on earth will she manage it all?
Naka, as the film’s empowered protagonist, is exceptional, deftly traversing the usual stereotypes of cinematic heroines and combining her impeccable comic timing with the type of expressive facial contortions which manage to convey a myriad of sharp, cutting glances. The camera barely leaves her company and the film is all the more enjoyable for it, showcasing exactly why she won Best New Actress at last year’s Japanese equivalent of the Academy Awards.
As to be expected the film’s humour weighs heavily towards the bizarre side, however, it translates well enough to a western audience now familiar to the nuances of Eastern cinema. The one area of Mitsuko Delivers which does demand some attention is the Japanese phrase ‘Iki’, which for convenience has been translated as ‘cool’ in the subtitles for English speaking audiences. In fact, it’s literal meaning is ‘to do right by people’ or to do something that’s ‘right, despite the consequences’, something which the film struggles to explain. This phrase dictates Mitsuko’s actions and a little more exposition of its true meaning would help determine why she believes this simple word to be a cure for everything from repairing broken families to solving the country’s precarious economic situation and would certainly help prevent the film’s languid first half from feeling overly long and needlessly slow.
Carrying on from the hugely successful Sawako Decides (2010), Ishii has managed to create yet another female driven drama which successfully weaves gentle comedy with an underlying social message. Combine this with a unique soundtrack which merges jazz and orchestral music with an Eastern flavour and you have a beautifully constructed story about the importance of doing good by your fellow man.