When we (well, I) previously reviewed Mitsuko Delivers on its theatrical release a few months ago we couldn’t have known that it would unfortunately turn out to be one of the last films Third Window would distribute through regular cinematic screenings. Though we (I) gave Mitsuko Delivers a solid if not not earth shattering review (not dissimilar to those of other critics save Tony Rayns’ out and out rave in Sight and Sound) we (yes, me again) were eager to revisit it on its DVD release to see what effect the intervening weeks and a change of format may bring.
Mitsuko Hara has reached a difficult point in her life. Dumped, broke and heavily pregnant she’s recently returned to Tokyo after having left for California to start a new life with her American boyfriend. As she hasn’t told anyone either about her return or, indeed, the baby (even her parents still think she’s living abroad) and has finally run out of money to pay for her medical expenses she’s at something of an impasse. In characteristic fashion, she doesn’t let this phase her and does what she normally does in this sort of situation - looks to see which way the wind blows and follows a cloud. This particular cloud, on this particular day, guides Mitsuko back to a place she once called home - a run down tenement street, lost among the suburbs of Tokyo. In many ways nothing has changed, but the once cheerful people are now beaten down and miserable; perhaps Mitsuko’s return will provide the much needed catalyst that precipitates a return to happier times for all concerned.
As noted in our previous review, Mitsuko Delivers shares a lot in common with its predecessor, Sawako Decides, in that they both feature a young female protagonist coming to something of a crossroads in life and having to figure things out from there. Where Sawako’s main trait was passivity and a bear all attitude, Mitsuko’s is a bloodyminded need to fix everything and a no-nonsense, just get on with it approach to life. As with Sawako, some viewers will find her personality traits very difficult to put up with, but again Mitsuko’s heart is generally in the right place. As we’ve come to expect from Ishii’s films plenty of quirky characters and situations combine to create escalating incidences of surreal comedy, but his keen eye for social commentary never falls by the wayside. Fans of Ishii’s back catalogue will no doubt enjoy Mitsuko Delivers even if it slightly fails to live up to expectations. Ishii’s directorial skills have obviously continued to improve but perhaps the film ends up being too close to themes he has explored previously. Though it doesn’t offer anything particularly new, Mitsuko Delivers is still well worth checking out by all fans of quirky Japanese cinema who are looking for a well-crafted a comedy with elements of something deeper going on underneath.
Third Window Films’ DVD release is, as they generally are, produced to a very high standard. Picture quality is mostly very good and, being an NTSC release, does not suffer from any nasty NTSC to PAL conversion problems. If I had a complaint, it would be that the audio volume of the main feature’s soundtrack seemed very low - I had to turn it up to quite a high level to be able to hear the dialogue clearly. This is not a problem however on the disc’s extra features such as the twenty-six minute making of documentary, where the volumes levels seemed normal. The subtitles provided for the main feature and extras are again very well done both in terms of writing and legibility - in keeping with other Third Window releases I do not recall spotting any instances of obvious grammatical errors or unintentional ambiguity. Leaving the film itself to one side for a second, this is certainly a well authored disc and buyers need not have any anxiety about laying down their hard earned cash for it.
I would recommend Mitsuko Delivers to fans of this particular genre without hesitation even if I have some reservations about the film’s overall quality. Perhaps if I had seen Mitsuko Delivers before seeing Sawako Decides I’d feel differently but to me it feels a little too similar too often, and therefore my expectations were slightly frustrated by a feeling of the wrong kind of familiarity. Having said that though, it’s still a very enjoyable film in its own right and this is a very good release of it. Yuya Ishii is certainly a director who is producing interesting material in an interesting way and who will certainly come into his own in time to come. Even if Mitsuko Delivers and Sawako Decides end up being too cosy companion pieces, both are well worth seeing and Mitsuko Delivers is, despite its flaws, a very welcome addition to the Japanese surreal comedy/drama genre.