Friday, October 02, 2009

Comfortably numb

All About Lily Chou Chou is a study on contemporary Japanese youth culture, an attempt at examining the situation that has led to some Japanese teens becoming violent and despondent, an outcome which has bewildered the older generations since the Japanese economic bubble burst back in the early 1990s.

Centred around a young teen named Yuichi, the film deals with bullying, shoplifting, prostitution, suicide, rape and murder, and how he and his school mates submerge themselves into their culture to escape their grim realities - in this case an obsession with the titular pop star, Lily Chou Chou.

Rather than just being a gritty expose of modern Japanese youth, the film is often lyrical to the point of being willfully abstract, with the long opening scenes consisting of little more than Yuichi standing in a rice field listening to a discman, whilst text from the fansite he runs dedicated to Lily flashes on screen, as different fans discuss Lily's music and the idea that it taps into an alternate state of being, known as the "Ether".

The films is shot on handheld DV throughout, most obviously in a long sequence following Yuichi and his school friends on holiday on a southern island in Okinawa, which is shot in POV of the boys’ own hand-held cameras.
These scenes are a welcome escape from the school and home life of the characters, but as the sequence plays out it’s obvious that getting away doesn’t help the boys get away from themselves.

The cruelty that adolescents are capable of inflicting on each other is always disturbing, and the situations here ring true as similar incidents are a regular occurrence in the news, but the film's attempt at elevating the kitchen-sink subject matter with an arthouse eye doesn't entirely succeed, instead serving to highlight the insular thought processes of the kids and thereby making them less sympathetic. The concentration on the look of the film brings the audience away from the characters and results in you investing less into what happens to them, leaving you to passively absorb the injustices rather than be pricked into anger or sorrow. The essential core to the story is that one of the bullied becomes the bully, and is even worse than those that came before – it’s a situation that should evoke feelings of bitter irony but the isolation of the characters, whilst on the one hand doing a good job of conveying the numbness they impose on themselves to cope, results in the audience feeling a similarly subdued reaction.

The performances are all decent but some of the characters are less than well rounded, particularly the bullies, and this lends the atmosphere a more exaggerated cartoony feel that only detract from the more artistic directional aims.

Extras are confined to a trailer for the film and trailers for other ICA DVD releases.

It's not a bad film but the subject matter has been handled often within Japanese cinema and more imaginatively, and although shot two years before Gus Van Sant's Elephant it still manages to feel like a cheap copy.

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