Shameless promotion of others, part 1
ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU (Shunji Iwai, Japan, 2002, 9)
I’m gonna do something I’ve never done here before — plug a DC-area screening. The Japanese movie ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU is getting a onetime screening this coming Wednesday at the University of Maryland Hoff Student Center. I won’t be able to go myself (work schedule), but this film never played in Washington (or very widely in the US at all) and I only saw it because a friend had a tape. But LILY CHOU-CHOU made my Top 10 for last year and I want to get the word out on a great and profoundly-moving film that deserved a better chance than it got to find an audience.
Despite this fellow’s enthusiasm for it, I had trepidations about LILY CHOU-CHOU, which is a longish, slow-moving Japanese film about sullen, alienated teens — a genre that also includes the annoying “blue,” which Charles Odell called (on his Sept. 9 entry) “the most boring film about teenage Japanese schoolgirl lesbians possible,” and EUREKA, which bored me so silly that it has become one of my “pet hate” films.
ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU does require patience. But if you can go with its plaintive, dreamy rhythms, it turns out to be one of the saddest, gentlest, most-poignant films ever made about teenage loneliness, centering on the gap between the hellish time they have in school dealing with bullies and cliques on the one hand, and the fanboy gushing on message boards over Lily Chou-Chou on the other. But unlike some such movies, stuff happens in LILY CHOU-CHOU — there is an arc, though it’s not always transparent. Characters develop and have some believable good times (there’s an Okinawa trip captured on the kids’ home videos), the students turn from friends into enemies and try to connect with one another.
The movie has two basic levels of reality, first, the daily life of school, and then, attempts to escape its misery through the Internet, centered on worship of the title character, a little-seen or -heard J-pop star. The Internet board “scenes,” which constitute about 25-30 percent of the running time I’d guess, are made up of Japanese script being typed onto a black screen. That’s it. While the amount of time and visual redundancy drove batty this usually on-target guy, I found the conceit thrilling. It keeps the kids’ identities secret from each other and us, while at the same time creating them as online personae (a theme that should resonate around the blogosphere). The blackness and its disconnect from ordinary visual storytelling emphasizes the gap between the students’ real lives and online lives. The blackness literalizes both Lily’s Ether and the ethereality of fame, meaning and connection. The ending absolutely depends on that blackness, as if even Lily fandom is not only not enough to unite the two boys, but that commonality is precisely what made the bullying finally intolerable (“your devil is not wholly Other”).
Mike also complained that Lily is not an interesting singer, which is a reasonable opinion (though I found her ethereal, Enya-Sadeness style an interesting and thematically apropos choice), but the movie’s themes might resonate even more strongly if Lily stunk as a singer — sorta like in MEMENTO, “we all have to have a god in our lives, even if it’s an unworthy or nonexistent one.”
Shot on Hi-Definition Video, LILY CHOU-CHOU is also one of the gorgeous-looking video-shot movies ever made, but in a most peculiar and hypnotic way. There are repeated nature images, of long shots of tall green plants rippling in the wind while the kids play their Discman (supposedly of Lily’s music, but Claude Debussy’s lush Romantic melodies are what *we* hear from the film’s soundtrack). The pictures and their florid color are overripe and alienating, simply exemplifying what AMERICAN BEAUTY preached and preached and preached about that stupid paper bag and the unbearability of natural beauty and even beautiful music while your soul is in torment. Again, in contrast to the Internet’s darkness.
Unlike AMERICAN BEAUTY and some other Western films about alienated teens, LILY CHOU-CHOU is blessedly free of sarcasm and caricature of parents and adults. They want to help and they sometimes even do, especially early on, but they finally are just outsiders who CAN’T get it. It’s L’AVVENTURA for Generation Wired — one teenage friend on a private discussion group called it “the greatest movie ever made about the Internet,” and it’s hard to think of a topper. There’s a whole series of brilliant sequences near the end, including the climactic scene, one of the very best of last year, where Lily sings in concert and we finally see her, on a jumbotron outside the arena. And to her music, we see a boy, mesmerized by her image while his heart breaks. A weaker man than myself might have cried.
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