Friday, December 15, 2006

Kamikaze Girls

This film is a fine example of what I call Pop Cinema, movies where the narrative exists primarily as a structure from which the filmmaker can indulge in a variety of stylistic flights of fancy. One of the finest examples of this is Run Lola Run, a movie that also blends animation and fractured chronology to tell its story. However, Kamikaze Girls has a bit more heart than Lola, using its style to enhance the story of Momoko and Ichiko.

The film's opening establishes the mood right off, a hyper animated sequence segues into Momoko on the bike, music blaring, camera moving all around, stopping only for freeze frames for the credits. The use of freeze frame is really striking here, a very pop move, bringing instant cool to the proceedings. The font is also great. I love a film that starts right off with something cool, and the crash into the watermelon truck does that, the beautiful footage of Momoko drifting through the air pondering her life moving us into the opening chunk of the film, which chronicles Momoko's history. The images here, in brilliantly exaggerated slow motion, are really striking.

The subsequent accounting of history uses some techniques I've seen before, the direct address, acknowledgement of the camera, speeded up storytelling, etc. aren't all original tactics, but they work well in context. Again, you could say these techniques have been used before or are gimmicky, but the so called 'normal' techniques for exposition have been used a lot more. As I said with reference to Friday Night Lights' visual style, it's ridiculous to accuse something that breaks from the norm of being gimmicky because the norm itself is a construction. It may not work, but what I find most boring now is a film that sticks to strict classical continuity rather than using all the possibilities of film to tell its story.

These opening sequence definitely uses all film has to offer. I'm curious about the bleeping out of Versace, was that just on the American DVD or was it a reference to the fact that the clothes aren't really Versace? I'm not sure what's up there. I really liked the flashbacks to the Rococo period, a ridiculously idolized depiction constructed in Momoko's mind. She doesn't necessarily want the reality of what things were like then as much as the fantasy her mind has built out of what she's read.

That sequence in particular, but the whole film in general has a lot of thematic simmilarities with Marie Antoinette. Both films use a character's ridiculous consumption as a way of exploring their emotional shortcomings. For Marie, consumption became a means of rebellion, the only way to assert her own identity in the strict world of the court. For Momoko, fashion becomes a way of defining herself, creating her own special world that's more exciting than the poverty she actually lives in. I like the fact that the film doesn't have her grow beyond consumption, it doesn't work for everybody, but in her case, it seems that all she really wants to do is wear these ornate clothes and enjoy being seen in them. That is the best way for her to express her self identity, and the film presents it without the expected growht beyond that. She has the chance to become a designer, but she'd rather just wear the clothes. Ichigo says that as a designer she could stop others from having to stop at Jusco, but I feel like Momoko needs Jusco, if they didn't exist, she wouldn't have a normal to define herself against.

The core of the film is the relationship between Ichiko and Momoko, and the way that they each push each other outside their comfortable behavior patterns. I really like Ichiko's 'origin' sequence, the moment where Akimi shows her a vision of what she could be. Both girls are trying to live up a fantasy image they have constructed, even as the world around them tries to force them into conformity. The final confrontation at the end makes it quite literal. The other bikers try to force Ichiko to accept their rule and live by their behavior patterns. But, Momoko fights back, and in a great display of ferocity, points out the way that they have become the very society they were trying to escape from, trapped by their own rules and power structures.

The film is primarily about the power of subculture to provide an outlet for imagining for young people. High school is an oppressive place where everyone must dress the same and do the same, so in their own time, Momoko and Ichiko are able to create fantasy personas, outlets for their dreams and desires. The reason they become friends is exactly because they are so different, and the difference between them makes it easier for each to express their individuality.

Much like a Wong Kar-Wai film, this is more about moments than a strict linear narrative. My favorite segment of the film is the 16mm footage of the two of them around the city. Taking them out of the glossy sheen of the regular film makes their difference from the norm more apparent. Momoko looks pretty ridiculous at times, but you forget about it as you're watching. Seeing it in the more 'real' view of the 16 footage makes it apparent again. I'm always railing against film, promoting digital, but in this case, the 16 is essential to making the sequence work. The problem with 16 to me is that it always winds up looking the same. Your look is the look of the film, which can work. But, you have less control. In this case, shooting on film gave them the perfect look for the sequence, but it wouldn't stand out if the whole film was shot like that.

I also really love the part at the train station in the rain, where Momoko offers to make Ichiko the embroidery. It reminds me of a similar scene in Three Times. Another cool bit is the 50s inspired sequences in the Pachinko parlor with Ryuji, the music there is fantastic. The denouement to that storyline, where Ichiko cries, is a great moment too. Throughout the film, the music does a fantastic job of pushing the emotional point the filmmakers were going for. The songs are great in their own right and also fit nicely with the energy of the film.

In the end, the film shows how Momoko can open her world to others without compromising her values, and the same's true for Ichiko. In terms of narrative, the film isn't particularly groundbreaking, but it's so stylish and fun, it's just a really enjoyable viewing experience. I sometimes wonder whether I'd like a movie like this if it was set in America. Certainly part of the enjoyment is seeing a different culture and its odd subcultures, but I feel like I would still really enjoy it if it was an American film. However, I seriously doubt I'd go to see it, just because teen movies here are usually so bad, a good pop gem like this would slip through the cracks.

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