Friday, 18 July 2008
I went to the cinema to see this, as you would. But this was the first film i've seen in a classroom which was pretending to be a cinema theatre. Yes, there were classroom-style chairs, a pull-down screen and light streaming through the gaps around the window blinds. It was being shown in "Showroom 5", according to a reluctant member of staff, because the film company Tartan has gone into receivership and they couldn't get a print, so they were showing the DVD instead. And indeed, there was the DVD's selection screen with looped soundtrack and clips from the film. They could have shown us the DVD extras if they wanted to! The whole strange situation affected the whole audience, and made for an excited, relaxed and chatty atmosphere. I just wish the seats had been more comfortable...
Tartan Films, RIP
Anyway, onto the film itself!
The film's heroine, Young-goon starts off life with her mentally unstable grandmother, who thinks she's a mouse and so eats radishes and stinks up the air... Granny is cruelly torn away from Young-goon to a psychiatric hospital and this event shatters Young-goon's own mind. She starts to think she's a cyborg, devoid of emotion, and an accident (she tried to charge herself up via the mains electricity) leads her to being admitted to a psychiatric hospital too.
The film is very funny and tragically sad in turns. Mental illness is manifested in this film as bizarrely humourous behaviour and beliefs, such as the beautifully-illustrated, albeit imaginary book of 7 deadly sins for cyborgs which Young-goon tries to live by ("no sympathy"). The way the film seemed to glamourise mental illness did make me wonder whether we should be finding the various events funny. Like how Young-goon didn't eat because she believed it would harm her machine organs, which brought her to the point of starving to death; the girl who could only look at people in a mirror; and the man who thought that everybody's misfortunes were all his fault and spent his days apologising. But this was made like a fantasy, and with a fantasy you tend to forgive a lot of inaccuracies and artistic licence. And if we didn't laugh, we'd cry, perhaps...
Plenty of attention has been paid to the look of the film, with some entertaining special effects and eyecandy supplied by Young-goon, played by Im Su-jeong and Il Sun (played by pop star-turned-actor Rain).
A slightly disturbing but delightful confection of a film.
Watch the trailer with English subtitles: YouTube English Trailer
This was a beautiful and very moving film, so I can't believe I've taken a whole week to get around to writing about it. But, the mark of a fantastic film for me is that I can actually remember it a week later! So here is what I thought...
Memories of Matsuko is the sad story of a woman's journey through a hard life, full of disappointments, betrayals and broken dreams. We follow Matsuko through her 60's childhood where she was overshadowed by her ill sister and tried constantly to impress her dour father. Then we follow her career path from school teacher to prostitute and porn star to hairdresser, and see her in prison along the way. The common thread which runs through her life is a succession of abusive boyfriends, and she's drawn to them like a fly to you-know-what.
In some ways, this was an incredibly harrowing and bleak melodrama, but I haven't said yet that it was a musical. Yes, a musical! With pop songs and Busby-Berkeley-esque dance sections which elevated the mood of the film. Just when you think that all hope is lost, along comes another song, and Matsuko is singing and dancing again. One of the highlights is "Happy Wednesday", with our heroine dressed like a 50's housewife in a bright kitschy kitchen with day-glo flowers all around. It's the sharp contrast of the bleak hopelessness of Matsuko's situation, against her faithful and forgiving approach to life, that makes the film so touching. It steers away from sentimentality, by showing her as a normal, flawed human being, who tries to deal with everything the world throws at her, slips into a downward spiral and strives to crawl back up.
If you don't shed at least one tear at some point in watching Memories of Matsuko, then you have a heart made of stone.
Watch this on YouTube for some of the best bits: Memories of Matsuko on YouTube