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When twenty-something slacker Sho (Eita) is informed that his aunt Matsuko, long estranged from his family, has been murdered, he travels to her home to clean out her apartment and recover her personal belongings. When he arrives, he finds that she has been living as a recluse in a rundown, garbage-strewn riverside apartment. Her neighbors call her an outcast and her own brother calls her life meaningless. However, through a series of flashbacks we see that Matsuko's life was anything but meaningless as we follow her downward spiral, from an idealistic young girl to a disgraced school teacher to her tragic final days. We get to see Matsuko's life as it's affected by bad choices and bad luck, from abusive boyfriends to prostitution and a prison stay. Through it all Matsuko tries to stay optimistic, seeing the events of her life as a series of cheerful, colorful fantasy musical numbers.
While many of Matsuko's misfortunes can be chalked up to some truly terrible life choices, the viewer is always on her side, due in no small part to the amazing performance of Miki Nakatani. As Matsuko she is so totally likable that we can't help but root for her even as we see her dig herself deeper into a pit she can't possibly hope to get out of. It's a tour de force performance, going from light comedy to tragedy and even some singing and dancing. It's also a beautiful film to look at. Director Tetsuya Naskashima has filled the film with pastels and bright colors, allowing us to get inside Matsuko's head and to see the world through her optimistic point of view.
MEMORIES OF MATSUKO was never given a proper theatrical or home video release in the US, only playing in select film festivals. Right now the best option for English speaking viewers is the recently release Blu-ray from the UK by Third Window films. It's affordable, is not region locked and most importantly, shows the film off in it's most impressive light. In the meantime here's hoping that some adventurous company steps up and gives this wonderful film a much deserved release in the States. I urge everyone to see this film however you have to go about it. It's dark in spots but manages to never be depressing. It's a terrific, life-affirming piece of work that will make you think twice about the people who manage to fall through the cracks of our society.