To be a teenager is no longer fun in the land of the rising sun. Sweet Hasumi is plagued with equal detriment by sharing a one room apartment with his entire family, falling completely in love with an international pop star and enduring daily torture from his once best friend – turned school yard bully, Hoshino. Fun times for gentle Hasumi who can only escape in the all-encompassing nothingness that is the internet. There, he is web master of a fan site dedicated to pop love, Lily Chou-Chou. Bjork-like in her wailings, Lily is the only one who is really there for nerdish Hasumi, after his homework is stolen, his class crush is sexually assaulted, and a gang of bullies defiles any other sacred items he may have. If you’re looking for action and adventure and some shock you have come to the right film. If you are looking for melancholy contemplation you’vestruck gold as well.
Hoshino, Hasumi’s one time best friend, fellow Kendo club enthusiast and all around sweet kid is now the torment of Hasumi’s existence. Told in fantastically sculpted non-linear flashbacks, we see how their lives intertwined despite obvious class differences; Hoshino, rich and out-going, and Hasumi, poor and introverted. During the Kendo team’s lushly filmed adventure to Okinawa, something goes horribly awry and rich Hoshino is changed irrevocably. Add that to the disintegration of his parents’ marriage, loss of all monetary status and being forced to change his name, Hoshino reverts into a bully of the 1st order. Running a gang, recruiting Hoshino as spy and torturing anyone who stands up to him creates and audience that is shocked at the level of depravity and hostility from the once golden child.
We eagerly begin to seek the same solace in the quiet moments displayed in green fields with Hasumi’s CD-man listening to Lily Chou-Chou, escaping from the horrors he faces daily at school, at home and even on the web.
Why should you entertain yourself with this depression fest? Easy. Because I am making it sound way more depressing than it really is, most likely. All atmosphere and ambience, this film doesn’t unfurl with customary chapter dictation and act marks. Encompassing brutal violence, fun frivolity, eccentric mental landscapes and uncharted lush cinematography, Director Shunji Iwai has crafted easily one of the most underappreciated Japanese tapestries ever created. It easily and violently exposes the hate that technology has released and espoused on the teenagers of the land that already had it bad to begin with, if you are poor.
Interspersed over the drama and the solitary contemplative moments are messages from the Lilly Chou-Chou message boards. They create a monologue inside Hasumi’s head and silent disposition and could be messages from each, any and none of the other characters in the film. A highly interesting literary device I’ve never seen used successfully in any other film. The music itself is one of the most important characters in the film and the melodic sing-songs of Lilly counterbalance the rhapsodies of Debussy’s Arabesque. This is a must see for any serious fan of modern Japanese Film.
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