The central device is magnificently simple: slacker student Shou is asked to clear out his mysterious, recently deceased aunt Matsuko’s apartment and in the process travels back through the five decades of her wild and tragic life. We witness her passage from open-hearted schoolgirl to overzealous teacher, to stripper, abused yakuza moll, murderess, housewife, jailbird and bag lady, culminating in her meaningless, rapturous death. Every stage of the journey is differently designed – from the chocolate-box fairyland of childhood to the gritty hip-hop-musical prison sequences – but the whole is expertly tied together by Shou’s quest for a deeper understanding of his family, and his own humanity.
And this is Nakashima’s most impressive achievement– for all its stylistic intensity and dizzying narrative overdrive, this is a profoundly compassionate, humanist work. In surprisingly sober fashion, the film covers an array of vital issues, from the mistreatment of women in Japanese society to the emptiness of celebrity obsession, from the trap of brutal relationships to the inescapable, agonising truth that those most open to the world are also those most likely to be crushed by it.