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Film reviews: Memories of Matsuko (2006) / Strawberry Shortcakes (2006) June 17, 2008

Posted by ashiah in Film, Reviews.

Director Tetsuya Nakashima is quickly becoming one of my favorites. His unique style of bright colors and cartoonish landscapes bring a fresh look to his films that are always noticeably his. But probably the most interesting thing about him is how his style translates. His films are always like candy for the eye, but they’re not cheesy, not overly-saturated, and not cheap. The colors and playful directorial techniques fit the film and don’t come across as gimmicky. That’s why Kamikaze Girls worked. And that’s why Memories of Matsuko is one of the most moving, enjoyable films I’ve seen in awhile.

Memories of Matsuko starts off like a classic old Hollywood film with a booming musical score and a soaring shot of a young girl singing a song. Clearly this is Nakashima’s parody of musicals but with darker undertones. The film actually starts in the present where Matsuko’s nephew Shou finds out his aunt, although he had no idea she existed, was murdered. As he cleans out Mastusko’s apartment, the drab, depressing circumstances of her death makes him question what kind of life she lived. The rest of the film is then told in flashbacks. As a child, Matsuko was constantly seeking attention from her father who loved her sick sister more. At 23 she became a successful junior high school teacher, but was fired after she tried to cover for a thieving student. After that, her life spirals. Her family disowns her, she is forced to work at a massage parlor, she serves time in prison, and is used and abused by every person she lets into her life.

Not as happy as she looks.

As depressing Matsuko’s story is, Memories of Matsuko isn’t a drab test-of-your-limit mood killer a la Lars von Trier. Most of Matsuko’s flashbacks are told in flashy musical montages that are enjoyable, yet heart wrenching at the same time. The reason the formula works is because it’s a classic tragic dramedy and Matsuko is our tragic heroine. Sure she had flaws and made many mistakes, but no matter what she chose in her life, she was always doomed from the beginning, which makes Matsuko so empathetic.

It’s rare to have a film that makes you laugh and cry within the same scene, but Memories of Matsuko is an interesting romp through the updated hypercolor lenses of a tragic figure.


Slice of life dramas about lonely people in the city are nothing new, and the first half of Strawberry Shortcakes almost seem laughably cliched. The film follows four characters independently, and they are all uniquely different from each other. Where I found the film cliched was in each character’s motivation. Each character (all female) moans about how badly they want a man, as if having a man will complete them and solve all their problems.

They just got the news “Arrested
Development” was canceled.

The first character, a girl who’s a receptionist at a call girl business, prays to a rock she finds on the street for a male companion. Another character, an actual call girl, sells her body as she waits around for an old college friend to fall in love with her. The third character is a stereotypical prissy girl who folds her boyfriend’s clothes after they have sex; she thinks finding God is through finding the right boyfriend. The last character, an artist, grows depressed after her ex-boyfriend sends her a postcard saying he got married…and she often cries while masturbating.

Although I had my share of grievances with the film and characters’ relentless struggle to look for men to fulfill their lives, as the film continues, the characters evolve and go through inner changes that shape their wants. Although all four characters want men, none of them actually get one. They all learn to deal with their loneliness not through a man in white armor, but through themselves and each other. It’s a simple movie with a simple message, and although it’s 30 minutes too long, everyone can probably empathize at being in a stage in their life where they feel lonely and pathetic.



1. preerbreomecE - August 3, 2008

Thanks for the post

2. Spotlight on…Tetsuya Nakashima - Extra Sugar, Extra Salt - March 22, 2011

[…] found it brilliant. I didn’t even take note of the director’s name until I watched Memories of Matsuko (2006). Now this was the film that truly blew me away, and it showed the kind of strengths Nakashima has […]

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