Thankfully I had seen "Amelie" and "Run Lola Run/Lola Rennt" before watching this. In all three films the usage of music as a prop, bold coloring, different speeds, odd and interesting angles, vivid cinematography, flashbacks, surrealism, eccentric characters, animated graphics, and other features of what I would call Expressionism, come to the fore, the entirety of the films' duration, each.
Amelie, for all its uniqueness, was actually at the end of it all rather boring, despite looking like a painting that's come to life, with an army of quirky people leaping out into a musical number of a film. (When it was finished each of the several times I watched it and honestly did enjoy it, I honestly didn't feel much connection to the characters though I understand exactly what their significance to the story is.) There's other odd French films, called "Micmacs" and "Delicatessen." By I think the same director as Amelie. At 1st I thought this was just a French style. But the bizarre visuals and retrospective storytelling seem to be characteristic of the filmmaker. So perhaps the director of "Memories of Matsuko" is pulling directly from Amelie's influence and not a broad genre of French film that I thought existed lol I mention Amelie and Run Lola Run and these other films because they did train my mind and eyes to this kind of artistry. But with Matsuko, it was not just used as an excuse to be odd and creative, like Amelie, but here it was completely necessary. In the 1st few minutes I was about to click this movie off, with the vaudevillian and fairy tale stuff and highly saturated colors; I wanted a taste of real life, modern Japan tied into a wowing film and the initial presence of Matsuko did not fulfill that. But after coming to review "Bounce KO Gals," a Japanese lolita film, I saw someone link other lolita films like "Kamikaze Girls" to "World of Kanako," to this film. And in liking those story lines and way of filming, I gave Matsuko a chance.
Since then, I figured that the whimsy of the song-and-dance style and harp playing and twinkle dust introducing this film was completely sarcastic. And it was. The unbearable interludes of musicals lasted briefly, popped up minimally, but they and the intense colors sooner than later showed their purpose: Matsuko was a lonely child with a vivid imagination, and went to the carnival with her dad as a kid and they saw theatrical plays. That was the film's only moment of he and her bonding.
So the musicals and coloring just visually expresses Matsuko's mental and emotional state. It introduced the rapid on screen downfall of our titular character, Matsuko herself. And it made me tear up. But I actually let the tears storm down when she was older and visited back home well into her extraordinarily troubled adulthood. I saw someone around here write that they didn't quite get the last scene with Matsuko as a child and then as an adult peacefully singing her utopian theme song as she climbed up the stairs to a heavenlike light shining down from her childhood bedroom, with her deceased sister angelically awaiting her to reach the top, whilst every friend and ex Matsuko had sung along in misery.
How can they not get this? Are they a sociopath or what? Maybe they've never been sad and daydreamed before so good for them but when you know you're unloved you then fantasize about being loved, or at least your former tormentors repenting how horribly they treated you, as you triumph how you realistically never did or would or could. And that's what the last scene shows. It was similar to Pan's Labyrinth, showing a finally happy Ophelia in a fanciful paradise; as her actual self took her last breaths, the make-believe Ophelia was being applauded by a kingdom and praised by her long dead parents. That too made me cry then. I realise this is what the director was doing here, not necessarily taking cues exactly from Pan.
It's just a trait of Expressionism I think, to visually and musically express the inside of its characters; it gives you everything you could ever ask for in order to understand what's going on and who's who. So it's used in "rom-coms" and horror films, and makes the films very popular. While I appreciated it, Impressionism, which I honestly prefer, doesn't do that. It uses exactly what's there and that's it, might not even have music in the whole film; it instead uses social and historical context as well as natural scenery to describe the characters. It's normally used in indie drama films, which are rarely as popular as expressionistic films but normally more critically acclaimed for their realism.
But for once I appreciated expressionism here. Because I totally understood why it was applied. Not just for eye popping kicks, which could almost force you to clutch your cheeks in painful dismay, begging for it to stop. But to show the viewer how alone and increasingly unstable Matsuko became, dwelling into a world of make believe and as she aged, hallucinations. So the fact that the film looked like you just dropped and popped acid kinda goes along with that, as opposed to Amelie which is gratuitously quirky and weird, just for the sake of being so. That being said, I liked Amelie but it had no personal affect on me. It taught me nothing. But how to giggle at an Arab immigrant struggling to pronounce French names, and how to sit through 2 hours of psychedelia.