Rating and Review:
Directed by: Shunji Iwai
Cast: Hayato Ichihara, Shugo Oshinari, Yu Aoi, Aymi Ito and Takao Osawa
Japan, 2001, 146 minutes
The title of the film comes from the virtual pop singer Lily Chou-chou, a fictitious pop star created by director Shunji Iwai. The film is not about her though, but her fans - teenagers. Like Iwai's other work "Love Letter", "All About Lily Chou-chou" brings us back to the days of high school, only this time the characters are dark, alienated and sometimes even brutal.
In the film, life as a teenager is not easy. Yuchi (Hayato Ichihara) watches as his friend Hoshino (Shugo Oshinari) morphs from a top-student into a violent bully. He discovers how one of the girls in his class is forced into prostitution, and watches as his dream-girl Kuno (Ayumi Ito) suffers the same fate. A quiet boy, Yuchi's only means of expression lies in cyberspace, where he hosts a webpage of Lily and encourages discussion from fans.
The story is told through individual events, as well as countless online messages that pop up on the screen once every few minutes. I am not sure if I like the ideas of using solid words to tell a substantial part of the story, but I certainly don't like the way the messages are presented on the screen, not to mention most of them are not too relevant. After reading like two hundred pop-ups, I feel like yelling "stop!"
We also jump back in time during the middle of the film, back to the summer when Yuchi and Hoshino go on a trip to Okinawa with some friends. Iwai seems to suggest that the trip is what trigger the transformation of Hoshino, but I am simply not convinced. Do we become bullies just because we have a brush with death or see someone knocked down by a car? I don't think so. Well, of course, maybe I just got the wrong message.
I enjoy this film mainly because of the mood Iwai manages to create with his camera. The subtlety employed is admirable, but I like only part of the story, and I am fully aware that adolescence problems / violence are not something new to movies. What keep me interested are the strong visuals - from the green fields where Yuchi listens to Lily with a Sony Discman, to the marvelous scene where we see Yuchi weeping outside a hut in which Kuno meets her doomed fate. To me, this film is more about mood and presentation than content. And I must say, this film looks really good.
Kobayashi's powerful soundtrack also adds to "Lily"'s success - the songs are not particularly attractive, but the music is. When the film was over, what lingered on in my mind was not the insights I got from it, but rather the oily green fields, the blue sky, and the wonderful soundtrack playing in the background.
© Marcus Chan 2002