Adding color to darkness


Tall, bearded, bald and craggily handsome, Tetsuya Nakashima stands out in a crowd.

Backstage at Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills, following the Japan premiere of “Kiraware Matsuko no Issho (Memories of Matsuko),” he also dominated an interview with The Japan Times. Not just reciting talking points, but rattling off answers with passion, clarity and nervous intensity.

His view of his troubled heroine was certainly clear enough: “I wanted to show that Matsuko’s life had value, no matter what it looked like on the surface,” he began. “That she was able to influence those who came after her, more than if she had lived a normal, happy existence.”

Nakashima was first drawn to the project by reading Muneki Yamada’s novel. “If I start seeing images when I read a novel I know it’s filmable,” says Nakashima. “I certainly had that experience with ‘Matsuko’ — the images came like crazy.”

Nakashima, who also wrote the script, realized that filming “Matsuko” as a conventional melodrama would probably turn off much of his potential audience.

“The story is dark — there’s no getting around it,” he comments. “By making it more colorful — by adding the musical numbers, the animation and all the rest, I thought I could make its central theme easier to understand.”

Nakashima’s last film, “Shimotsuma Monogatari (Kamikaze Girls),” became a box-office smash in Japan and was widely screened abroad. It earned Nakashima a Best Director prize at the 27th Yokohama Movie Awards, while stars Kyoko Fukada and Ann Tsuchiya scooped armfuls of acting prizes, including a Japan Academy Best Newcomer Award for Tsuchiya.

Will “Matsuko” duplicate this success? Nakashima has no box-office crystal ball, but he believes “Matsuko” is more a musical in the Hollywood line than the usual Japanese versions of the genre. “People here think that if a film has songs it has to be nothing but fluff,” he comments. “But look at ‘The Sound of Music’ — that’s a film with plenty of sadness in it. Or ‘Cabaret’ — the heroine hardly has an easy time, does she? The really great musicals usually have something serious going on behind the songs — that’s what gives them their power. And that’s the sort of film I’ve tried to make.”

Read the movie review:
“Kiraware Matsuko no Issho”
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