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NYAFF 2007: “Memories of Matsuko.”

NYAFF 2007: “Memories of Matsuko.” (photo)

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A middle-aged woman is murdered by the river. There’s no one to mourn her — she lived alone in squalor, barely removed from homelessness. Her neighbors knew only that she smelled bad and sometimes screamed to herself at night. Her 20-year-old nephew Sho (Eita), who had no idea she even existed, is enlisted by his father to clear out her apartment, where, sorting through the remnants of her life, he learns that the woman, Matsuko (Miki Nakatani), bounced from terrible relationship to terrible relationship, was disowned by their family, worked as a prostitute and served time for murder.

All in all a pretty wretched life, but what makes the self-proclaimed “fairy tale tragedy” “Memories of Matsuko” so good, even a little great, is that Matsuko refused to accept so, and accordingly, the film is both a musical and a brilliant whirl of stylized, candy-colored visuals, “The Life of Oharu” by way of a neon “Amelie.”

Like Mizoguchi‘s miserable heroine, Matsuko was once ensconced in a respectable life. In flashbacks, we see her first in her early 20s, working as a middle-school teacher and being wooed by a handsome coworker. She’s thrilled by the promise of romance, but the love she really yearns for is paternal — her solemn father has always favored her sweet, invalid sister and scarcely given Matsuko any attention.

07142007_memoriesofmatsuko3.jpgWhen she’s forced to quit her job after a misunderstanding when one of her students steals some money on a field trip, her troubles at home come to a head, and in shame and rage she leaves, forever, as it turns out.

From there, she falls into a relationship with an abusive, alcoholic writer, and then on to one with his married rival, whose attacks turn out to be emotional. Then on to a soapland, and, more degradingly, out of the soapland, no longer in fashion and unwanted, and into the arms of a pimp, and onwards toward an ending we already know.

This is, under its giddy appearance, unrelentingly grim melodrama — every fresh start arrives hand in hand with dread at what will come next. Matsuko’s no martyr; she has no sense of self-worth, she makes awful decisions, is more than a bit pathetic, and embraces her role as a human punching bag, but she maintains an unwavering faith in the belief that happiness can and must lie only in other people, and when each tragedy has her declaring her life is surely at an end, each new man has her singing again.

She’s is a holy fool — she can’t not love completely and selflessly without judgment or discrimination. Her devotion is so total that it’s frightening, even ultimately repellent to the men she’s involved with, and it leads her to believe that no one will ever love her back, because no one is willing to love with her reckless total commitment.

07142007_memoriesofmatsuko2.jpgDirector Tetsuya Nakashima last chronicled suburban subculture malaise in the enjoyable trifle “Kamikaze Girls,” and here that fanciful visual style kaleidoscopes out to encompass an entire world of magic in the mundane and the woeful. The film’s most indelible image is one of an amusement park on the roof of a city department store, a setting of impossible wonder when first glimpsed in a childhood memory, and later the more prosaic, bittersweet backdrop to a grown-up confrontation framed by a Greek chorus of stage performers. Almost as memorable is the dreamlike, starlit grassy field in which Matsuko meets her end, and in which the film finds in its foreordained tragedy an unexpected and well-earned moment of grace.

“Memories of Matsuko” will play at the Japan Society July 7 at 8:45pm and July 8 at 1:00pm. It has no US distribution.

+ “Memories of Matsuko” (
+ “Memories of Matsuko” (IMDb)

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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