Director: Ishii Yuya
Screenplay: Ishii Yuya
Cinematography: Okimura Yukihiro
Music: Watanabe Takashi
Cast: Naka Riisa, Nakamura Aoi, Ishibashi Ryo, Inagawa Miyoko
Runtime: 109 min
Trailer: at Far East Films (not subtitled)
Film’s official website: Hara Kore (in Japanese)
Seen at the BFI Southbank as part of the 2011 BFI Film Festival.
Release date in Japan: November 5, 2011.
Hara Ga Kore Nande is the latest offering of Ishii Yuya, the director of 川の底からこんにちは (Kawa no soko kara konnichi wa/Sawako Decides). In this somewhat caricature comedy, Mitsuko (Naka Riisa, who voiced Makoto in Toki o Kakeru Shōjo), a young Japanese woman, has returned from California and is currently nine months pregnant, but her parents are not aware of either of these two facts. Mitsuko has been dumped by the father of her unborn child and is seemingly broke (although few details are provided about her exact situation). She follows a cloud in the sky – yes, a cloud in the sky – to the tenement where she lived as a child and moves back in with her old landlady, who was once a forceful woman but is now bedridden due to old age.
Mitsuko lives by two mantras: she believes that “[w]hen the wind is going in your direction, go with it, when it isn’t, take a nap” and that leading a “cool” life is important (“cool” being vaguely defined as ‘performing acts that move others’). These mantras transform into something like superstitions that Mitsuko clings to so obstinately that they become a failing point of the film: whenever Mitsuko encounters something she does not want to deal with – such as her parents, who run into her by coincidence -, she spurts out these mantras, replacing any real dialogue that could have provided insight into the story and characters.
Synopses of the film (e.g. for the BFI) describe Mitsuko as a person with a ‘can-do’ attitude that helps others, but she comes across as a bully, unwilling to listen to anyone and, though doing things for others, doing them exactly her way, even if that means bulldozing anyone within her vicinity. Meanwhile, other characters are too worried about her ready-to-pop-any-minute state to assert themselves. It is difficult to relate to this caricatural Mitsuko, even if her characterisation is done in the name of humour and to create an antidotal persona to what young women are expected to be in Japanese society. In the end, we do not really know anything much about Mitsuko, neither about what drives her nor why others feel that they must absolutely bow to her wishes.
Ishii Yuya’s filmmaking is clearly idiosyncratic, but his choices can be interesting. Although never seen in the film (except for a brief frame zooming in on a photograph), the father of Mitsuko’s child is a black American man. Given the complexity of race issues in Japan (see also my review on Smile), this is unexpected and even more so interesting as it is not a discussion point in the film at all: Mitsuko states the baby’s parentage as a fact. It is as if Ishii wants to suggest that there is no need to talk about it because it is a non-issue. We know of course that it is not and that Mitsuko’s child, once born, will face plenty of obstacles, but this representation of something as normalised when it is not is as important as the active confrontation of such issues. It is a subtle message embedded in the film that I can appreciate, but, with subtlety lacking otherwise, not enough to make me enthusiastic about Mitsuko Delivers.