Release date: July 9th, 2012
Certificate (UK): PG
Running time: 109 minutes
Country of origin: Japan
Original language: Japanese with English subtitles
Writer and director: Yuya Ishii
Cast: Riisa Naka, Aoi Nakamura, Ryo Ishibashi, Keiko Saito
In spite of having listened to a convincing argument made by author Sam Harris about us having no free will, I have great admiration for people who strive to take control of their lives when facing difficulties and hardship. Seeing people being defiant in and overcoming a crisis is when the ‘illusion of free will’ seems convincingly real.
Director Yuya Ishii makes his own argument for free will in Mitsuko Delivers as he explores themes of perseverance and endurance – otherwise known as Gaman – that the Japanese have shown the rest of the world not only in the aftermath of World War II and the 1995 Kobe earthquake, but also in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.
We meet Mitsuko (Riisa Naka) who really has a lot on her plate. After living in California for while with her American boyfriend, she returns to Tokyo, alone and nine-months pregnant. Her parents are blissfully ignorant to her situation and Mitsuko keeps it that way by making brief phone calls, pretending to still be in the U.S.
Yet Mitsuko is broke and lonely and is soon forced to move out of her apartment, but she remains admirably strong and assertive, never failing to carry out random acts of kindness to the people she comes across. Her only true friend nevertheless seems to be a lone cloud she has noticed floating above her.
After losing her apartment, Mitsuko gets into a taxi cab and tells the surprised driver to follow the wind-blown cloud, only to end up in the run-down alley where she was brought up. The place has not gotten any better since she left; an economic down-turn is making life particularly difficult for this community. Despite these problems, Mitsuko’s arrival starts shaking things up immediately and the depressed and hopeless people are inspired by her raw strength and determination.
Yuya Ishii’s follow-up to Sawako Decides is just as touching, funny and heart-warming as its predecessor, but with Mitsuko Delivers he also excels in the domain of directorial ambition with more of a high-concept drama about life. Mitsuko’s relationship with a lone cloud is written and photographed beautifully.
The idea that we’re all lone clouds randomly drifting where the wind blows might be somewhat scary to a very young Mitsuko in a flashback, but it’s really inspiring to see her learning to accept this fact of life and then rigorously taking control. She embodies the Japanese ‘Gaman’ that stands for the ability to patiently endure difficulties and hardship; a widely respected human quality on the land of the rising sun. Mitsuko’s attitude proves to be contagious and begins to spread amongst the broken spirits of this little community.
Hope isn’t just some romantically vague idea in Mitsuko Delivers; it’s a direct result of a relentlessly determined attitude and even defiant hostility towards hardship. When one member (Keiko Saito) of the community has to go to Fukushima to take care of her sick mother, the others join her without hesitation. They all go to Fukushima, where help is needed.
This is no doubt inspired by the very real disaster that unfolded in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami and this is when Ishii makes his argument for free will. When dealing with the crisis in Fukushima, the characters no longer follow the lone cloud – it’s the lone cloud that follows them as they take control with ever increasing collective strength and heightened spirits.
Mitsuko Delivers is a moving and delightfully funny comedy with great performances which conveys its ideas poetically and yet in a very down-to-earth manner without ever turning preachy on its audience. It inspires and encourages a hopeful look to the future – after all, Mitsuko has life in her belly and life is good.
Arpad is a Film Studies graduate and passionate photographer (he picked up the camera and started taking stills just as he began his studies of moving pictures). He admires directors that can tell a story first of all in images. More or less inevitably, Brian De Palma has become Aprad’s favourite filmmaker.
Then there’s Arpad’s interest in anime. He was just a boy when he saw Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind on an old VHS and was hypnotised by the story of friendship, devotion and sacrifice. He still marvels at the uncompromising and courageous storytelling in Japanese anime, and wonders about the western audience with its ever growing appetite for “Japanemation”.