So, I've talked about my favorite international movies, and I've talked about the creative genius of the director behind my Number 1 on that list (where I also briefly mentioned the subject of this post). Now let's talk about another director hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun: Tetsuya Nakashima.
The interesting thing about Tetsyua Nakashima is how different his films can be. Normally, filmmakers have a set style, and Tetsuya Nakashima definitely has one — all of his films definitely maintain darkness — but if we visually compare 2004's Kamikaze Girls or 2006's Memories of Matsuko to 2010's Confessions or 2014's The World of Kanako, you just wouldn't feel as if it was the same mind behind both pairs. Memories of Matsuko is like The Wizard of Oz if it were co-directed by Martin Scorsese, while Confessions is a brutal, no-holds-barred mystery-thriller. Let's take a closer look.
'What Is A Life?': Balancing Light Imagery and Dark Subjects.
Memories of Matsuko is not a happy film by any means, but its visual style would make it come across as such. Memories of Matsuko is shot like a fairy-tale, complete with bright, sometimes annoyingly over-saturated colours, vivid imagery, cheerful music, eccentric characters and even on-screen animations, but is far from it. If anything, it's the opposite.
It's interesting to me how different the package looks from what's inside and on paper, it just doesn't seem like it should work, but the clash between the style and the story comes together in a way to create something more heart-wrenching than I've seen anywhere else. I suppose the humor and happy visuals were needed to balance it all out. It really packs an emotional punch that'll stay with you for a while.
But the visuals aren't without purpose. Memories of Matsuko tells the story of a woman called Matsuko Kawajiri and the events leading up to her death. Don't worry! That's the set up for the whole film, so not a spoiler, I promise! It starts off quite light-hearted and funny but as Matsuko grows and we learn more about her, things take a turn. Every section of the story is visually designed to match the time period and Matsuko's changing perception of things. From the vivid and colorful fun fair of her childhood during the '50s to the darker (but still pretty colorful) times of adulthood in the '70s.
It's also worth mentioning that Memories of Matsuko is part musical, but not in the general sense. The songs don't always come from the characters themselves, but from things in the background, whether that be from a girl-group or a prison chorus. Yep. Some of the songs presented here are seriously catchy. In fact, I'm listening to the soundtrack as I'm typing this, bopping my head like an idiot (I dare you try to keep still). And paired with the aforementioned dream-like imagery, it's a treat for both your ears and your eyes.
Memories of Matsuko would kick ass on Broadway.
Memories of Matsuko is a beautiful and tragic tale about a woman who's longing for love caused life to eat her up and spit her back out. You constantly feel frustrated by Matsuko and her terrible life choices and also feel so sorry for her at the same time. The ending is so bittersweet that those tears coming down your face will be equal parts sad and happy.
'Nobody Taught Me That Killing People Was Wrong': Using Dark Imagery For A Dark Story.
Tetsyua Nakashima took another direction with Confessions. Just by that quote, you can probably see that it is a different type of film to Memories of Matsuko. Confessions is a hugely dark mystery thriller that is deliberately ambiguous as it offers you the unfolding plot in small doses throughout. It isn't the director's first stab at this type of genre, but it is his most effective. Confessions is about human weakness and social breakdown, it's about fear and desperation and ultimately to what lengths people will go to cover their tracks, or to uncover somebody else's.
Confessions has (what I thought would be) its big reveal at the start, instead dealing with the psychological after-effects of everything following. The affected children of the film depict two opposite personalities reacting in opposite ways.
Its visual style (and tone) is pretty much the complete opposite from Memories of Matsuko. Confessions pulls absolutely no punches in it's gritty storytelling, and the visuals reflect it in an beautifully uncomfortable way.
Confessions's visuals are highly stylized and can be compared to that of a horror movie. It's cold, grey overtones and dark to baby blue, with heavy usage of dark and light depicting its different situations. It's stunningly cinematic.
Most of the film takes place either at night or indoors and there never seems to be any sunlight. Even the daytime sequences are shadowed by grey clouds, reflecting its no-fun tone (well, there is some very dark humor in it, the kind where you feel guilty about laughing.) There is also moody slow motion sequences as you watch every droplet of rain and every drop of blood splash to the ground in a way that would make Zack Snyder drool (and then have it splash to the ground in slow motion).
Much of the dialogue are voice-overs that sound a little like journal entries to depict that noir-detective style of storytelling, as the camera cuts away from the speaker and we watch the events unfold onscreen.
As different as the general tone of the film is, Tetsyua Nakashima maintains with Confessions a dream-like, theatrical feel as he did with Memories of Matsuko, except Confessions feels more like a nightmare.
Both Memories of Matsuko and Confessions use visuals to their advantage to create atmospheres that are unparalleled. Tetsuya Nakashima continues to impress us with his understanding of the importance of aesthetics to play with our emotions and perception, making us laugh and making us cry, but never dissatisfied.
As if you needed another reason to check out more Asian films, the video below will show you why Asian action kicks the most ass in Hollywood:
Which director's visual style do you love? Let us know!