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Movie review: Kamikaze Girls April 19, 2008

Posted by ashiah in old.

Lately, it seems a lot of movies have been taking advantage of our generation’s short attention span. There have been a lot of movies (for example, “Survive Style 5+”) that rely on fast cuts, cartoonish characters and over the top colors and physical action. It’s like the equivalent of watching a two hour Fanta commercial. While many might find this distracting, it has a weird allure that makes the film more interesting than it really is. Even though the audience can predict what happens next, it is the strange characters and titillating eye candy that keeps them watching.

Before I continue this review, there a few things I should probably explain about Japanese culture in order for this review to make sense.

Lolita – these are young people who are into the Lolita fashion scene that took off in the late ’80s. The clothing is inspired by French Victorian women and children and focuses on looking very elegant, child-like and cute. The dresses are very frilly and are usually in light pastel colors with floral prints. Although the fashion is growing in popularity, the people who wear them are in the minority and are rarely seen outside large fashion districts like Harajuku or Daikanyama.

Yanki – these are young people in bike gangs who dye their hair and wear heavy makeup to appear intimidating. They modify their bikes in elaborate ways using flags and sometimes Chinese symbols. They are most likely drop outs.

OK, now that the vocabulary lesson is over…”Kamikaze Girls” is about the friendship between a Yanki and a Lolita. On the surface it seems like the typical and horribly predictable “buddy comedy.” Buddy A likes this, while Buddy B likes that, and the audience is expected to find this amusing. Unfortunately, this is that kind of movie, but all the elements of the film makes it too endearing to hate.

Leather and parasols, oh my!

Momoko (Kyoko Fukada) is a girl who feels she was born in the wrong century. She’s obsessed with 18th century France’s Rococo style and longs to be like those women who had nothing to do but look pretty and carry parasols all day. Unfortunately, she’s stuck in a small, isolated town where the people “are born in a tracksuit and die in a tracksuit.” While everybody else shops at Jusco (Japan’s equivalent of Wal-Mart), Momoko prefers buying expensive frilly dresses from Lolita shops in Tokyo.

After her father (Hiroyuki Miyasako) is caught selling counterfeit Versace shirts, hats and fans, she is forced to move to Shimotsuma to live with her grandmother. There, she meets Ichiko (Anna Tsuchiya), a Yanki who spits, curses and rides a modified pink motorbike. She’s the complete opposite of Momoko, which Momoko finds disgusting. But of course, since this is a buddy comedy, we know they’ll love each other eventually.

“Kamikaze Girls” is based off a famous novel by Novala Takemoto, which gained a cult following among Lolitas and Yankis. His empathetic outlook on social outcasts struck a cord with most young girls who were considered misunderstood loners due to their questionable fashion taste. Although “Kamikaze Girls” is a fun comedy for young girls, there are a lot of subtle critiques on alienation and how outcasts are perceived by the rest of their peers (especially those in small country towns). When Momoko and Ichiko first meet, it is Ichiko who goes out of her way to befriend Momoko. Although both had nothing in common, Ichiko admired the way Momoko marched to the beat of her own drum. Gradually, they both see what they needed was each other to complete the element of themselves.

But skipping over all the cultural analysis, the real meat of “Kamikaze Girls” is that it’s, well, funny. The movie begins with a shot of Momoko spiraling through the air in a white frilly dress after getting hit by a truck. She narrates that before she dies, the audience should know the whole story. So, in “Fight Club”-like fashion, the movie is literally rewinded to show a hilarious introduction to her life. It’s one of the highlights of the movie.

The official region 1 DVD is bare as far as special features go. There’s a lukewarm interview with the two lead stars and a music video starring Anna Tsuchiya, who has a double career as a J-rock star. The most beneficial feature is the “sideways mode” playback that explains certain aspects of the film for Western audiences who might not know what a “pachinko” or “yakuza” is.

Although it’s clear this movie is marketed to teen girls (especially with two pop stars in the leading roles), the film can be enjoyed by anyone, especially those with eyes for fashion. Maybe these commercial-turned-film directors are on to something. In a culture where people get impatient watching two characters in a moment a silence, these fast paced Colorvision films seem to be where audiences are heading. And hey, if it’s all as engaging as “Kamikaze Girls,” then so what?



1. Spotlight on…Tetsuya Nakashima - Extra Sugar, Extra Salt - March 22, 2011

[…] on the scene with only about four (notable) films under his belt. His first successful film was Kamikaze Girls (2004), a hyper, colorful fast-paced film with lots of humor and cheeky charm. Based on a popular cult […]

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