All About Lily Chou-Chou

Not rated yet!
Director
Shunji Iwai
Runtime
2 h 26 min
Release Date
7 September 2001
Genres
Drama, Music, Crime
Overview
Charts the troubled teenage years of students Yuichi Hasumi and Shusuke Hoshino, exploring the shifting and complex power dynamics of their relationship against the backdrop of Yuichi's love for the dreamy and abstract music of fictional pop star Lily Chou-Chou.
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VJ Morton 2
Right Wing Film Geek



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  • Shameless promotion of others, part 1

    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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    (Review Source)
  • TIFF 10 Capsules — Day 4
    (”All About Lily Chou-Chou” is briefly mentioned in this.)

    TIFF 10 Capsules — Day 4

    CIRKUS COLUMBIA (Danis Tanovic, Bosnia, 5)

    Tanovic returns home after a couple of unsuccessful Western-made films and returns to the vein of his reputation-making NO MAN’S LAND — a black comedy about the early 90s wars that broke up Yugoslavia. And an early scene gives us the sense that CIRKUS COLUMBIA, set in a small Bosnian village on the eve of the war, will also mark a return to form. A couple of newly-empowered ethnic-Croat city officials drop by a Serb woman’s home to evict her. Her Croat husband has just returned to the newly-noncommunist country after 20 years in West Germany with a hot trophy wife to make good on his claim to the home — to “put things right,” you understand. She curses out the cops at the door and dumps a pot of boiling water on them from a floor above. Then, while they hop around screaming, a tube of burn cream drops into the frame. Obviously, we’re gonna see the whole war played out within the microcosm of this family and/or village. The returning husband has never known the couple’s son, who is being “protected” by a local Yugoslav Army officer who is sweet on the mother but has no Deutschmarks to buy everything up. There’s a colorful cast of town eccentrics and couples. Oh … and the husband has a black tomcat that is like a talismanic symbol of his good luck in the West. Naturally, it goes missing and the whole town gets involved in the hunt (its reappearance is the film’s high point).

    There is a lot to like here and I wouldn’t exactly warn people off CIRKUS COLUMBIA. The problem is that the awesome cinema of neighboring Romania has really raised the bar in the last few years on this kind of story and on having the convictions of their mordant blackness. CIRKUS is really only intermittently funny, and then has the gall to get sentimental on us in the last reel, which I won’t spoil. Suffice to say that there are some pretty unbelievable character arc changes and the last image is unforgivably sweet. Let’s just say it’s of two people on an old ride at the titular circus — the exact same ending as one of the shorts from TALES FROM THE GOLDEN AGE. Only, the Romanian film knows how to weave a sick joke into the situation, while Tanovic just gives us the Peaches and Herb “and it feeeels so gooooood” sentiment, which is not undone by panning up to a few puffs of CGI smoke.


    THE CONSPIRATOR (Robert Redford, USA, 2) Even by standards of leftist “issue” films, this is risibly bad and so on-the-nose I had to laugh in spots. More tk at Big Hollywood.


    THE ILLUSIONIST (Sylvain Chomet, France/Britain, 4)

    Just a misconceived film, if not exactly an unpleasant or punishing one. As everyone et son frere knows, this film is based on an unfilmed Jacques Tati script, about an early-60s magician being elbowed out the industry by newer forms of entertainment. But I think it’s more than name-dropping to point this out, because it’s the key to why this film is, I think, unsuccessful. The protagonist is an obvious M. Hulot cousin and is even named Tatisheff (Tati’s real name). While touring England and later Scotland, he takes on a young girl as a “Cinderella” project and is so successful, she begins to attract another man.

    While Tati is very far from a favorite of mine — I think his comedy plays better theoretically and on the page (this is part of why, I think, he is a critics favorite) — even a fan should realize that pointing out that Hulot was a cartoon or Tati had cartoon elements in his films don’t mean that actually animating him is a good idea. Without Tati’s physical presence as an actor and the materiality of his world, the humor becomes even more theoretical.

    There are some funny bits here — the most dangerous rabbit since the Carter administration, the reason the magician rolls up his sleeve at one point, and an on-the-side joke you might miss about British cuisine, as the POV sits outside an Edinburgh “chippie” and you can read the menu. But there’s also a distasteful element of self-aggrandizement and/or self-pity in the story, portraying a Beatles clone group (the Britoons) as loud, talentless nancy-boys just makes Tati/Chomet come across as Grandpa in the corner of the room (or Charlie Chaplin in A KING IN NEW YORK) ranting against the dang-fool younger generation and their awful jazz. And ultimately I think Sylvain’s animation style — its grotesque elements, the lack of speech and a barely-realistic template — works against the kind of semi-tragic story of lost love that THE ILLUSIONIST ends up being. I liked Chomet’s TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE, so I felt down after this one and realized I hadn’t really seen a great film yet and started to think, “maybe it’s just me … I’m becoming a D’Angelesque impossible-to-please guy.” Until …


    TABLOID (Errol Morris, USA, 9)

    Finally, the festival gets started, with its first great film, on Sunday opening night at the new Lightbox theater. Indeed, given how blah a festival nearly everyone seemed to be having and how I was in the first audience for this one — I don’t even think there were press screenings, I definitely went into TABLOID cold of any “buzz” — I think (I hope, I pray) that schedulers deliberately back-loaded the festival until after the Lightbox opened.

    Anyhoo … onto this film — Morris’s best since THE THIN BLUE LINE in significant part because it returns to his roots of making films about eccentrics and weirdos that somehow manage to say something profound about them and everyone else in between all the “oh, come ON” moments (just don’t ever make another political movie, Errol, mmmmmkay ….) The Morris film TABLOID most closely resembles is MR. DEATH, both films being profiles of some Nutcase who is famous for Thing X, and then we learn midway through (actually, about 4/5 of the way through here) about his separate, never-previously-mentioned fame for Thing Y.

    But while Fred Leuchter went from just bizarre to wicked through an excess of epistemological and scientistic hubris, Morris maintains an appropriately breezier tone for Joyce McKinney’s story in TABLOID. In large part this is because she’s a much more appealing personality (albeit a rapist and a Nutcase; she could be a Tennessee Williams heroine) but also because Morris is interested in her media stardom. He takes an appropriately breathless, tabloidish tone and pace and visual style. Other than the familiar Interrotron look-into-the-camera interviews, the film mostly consists of collages of tabloid headlines or ironically recontextualized found footage of Mormon missionary films, 50s male-body contests, etc. When Thing Y comes along, it was a shocker to me (though I remembered it upon the film’s prompting).

    I went in knowing about McKinney’s Thing X, which was a sensational tabloid story in Britain in the late-70s. McKinney became convinced a Mormon friend she wanted sexually had been kidnapped and taken away from her for cult programming. He was on a mission in Britain, which is routine for Mormon men, McKinney’s ignorance of which fact proves her vacuousness. So Joyce goes to Britain, kidnaps him and forces him to have sex with her, thinking that would cure him of Mormon repression. She became a tabloid sex celebrity (think Monica Lewinsky) until she fled the country. Then Fleet Street began digging about her past and a new round of publicity began

    The one mistake Morris makes, I think, is giving too much voice (or any voice actually) to an ex-Mormon crusader who basically thinks McKinney’s victim was either asking for it or even if he wasn’t, he deserved it because Mormonism and premarital chastity are ridiculous repressions from which, in Rousseau’s memorable phrase, he should be “forced to be free.” But since that’s basically McKinney’s attitude too, it was unavoidable, and it will have the nice side benefit of seeing how feminists react to this film. When Morris asks the blunt question — “is it possible for a woman to rape a man,” she answers “no” and then tells the familiar joke about relaxing and enjoying it, like the weather a marshmallow and a parking meter. If the sexes were reversed, Morris (and McKinney) would be lynched at the next Take Back the Night rally for telling this story in this way.

    Then Thing Y comes along, within the last few years and which I won’t even mention, except to say it becomes a different kind of tabloid story, one Morris suggests fits better in a new era. And it suggests that McKinney’s persona was not fake, kidnap-rapist though she was. She really was just starved for love and sought it any way and anyhow she could find it. Actually, I lied at the start. This is Morris’s best film since GATES OF HEAVEN.


    NORWEGIAN WOOD (Tran Anh Hung, Japan, 4)

    So *this* is what people who thought ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU or NOBODY KNOWS were too damn long were getting at??? Even if I didn’t know this film was adapted from a novel, it wouldn’t have been hard to figure out — the lengthy voiceover narration, the wealth of incident, and finally the excess of the latter, as if the adapter just had to “get it all in.” And that’s where NORWEGIAN WOOD falls.

    For about 90 minutes I was fine with just luxuriating in NORWEGIAN WOOD’s textures and surfaces. Tran has a way with making languor appetizing, shown in his VERTICAL RAY OF THE SUN and SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA. In those films, tropical heat created an aimless hazy reverie mood (“Joe” was probably taking notes). Here it’s more the faces of the actors, caressed in light that looks like it was filtered through butter, giving the perfect faces the feel and texture of a creamy dessert you wanna taste on the screen. There’s also a fine setup — college-age boy and girl, Watanabe and Naoko (the latter an unrecognizable Rinko Kikuchi) meet after the suicide of a mutual friend who also was her first beau. And there’s a number of viruoso scenes. I especially liked the worst-thing-you-ever-said mistake Watanabe makes the first time they have sex, which sends her to a rehab-type clinic, away from him; the scene with Watanabe having dinner with his roommate and *his* girlfriend; and a lengthy track back and forth across a windswept Japanese grassy-reed field as Naoko talks about the suicide for the first time. And like with how the Vietnam war was echoing only-just offstage in PAPAYA, WOOD takes place during a Japanese student uprising that plays no role after establishing the time-frame early on, A 30-minute shorter cut of this film would probably be a strong 6 or a weak 7.

    But for about 45 or 50 minutes, I was just going to myself “will this thing ever fracking end????” and not for external reasons like bathroom or hunger. There was another girlfriend, and another, and a counselor at Naoko’s camp, and Watanabe moves out the dorm, and one of the girlfriend prospects moves into his new pad, and he tries to take up again with Naoko and I start shaking my watch … faster, FASTER!!! It seems too mundane a complaint, but NORWEGIAN WOOD is just too damn long and has too many characters and incidents. (And the Emperor thinks the opera has too many notes, I know, I know …)

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    1 Comment »

    1. “I think his comedy plays better theoretically and on the page (this is part of why, I think, he is a critics favorite)”

      I don’t get this at all. I understand not liking Tati, of course – several of my film-watching buddies don’t care much for him – but I don’t understand the claim that his humor is somehow better conceptually than it is when it’s actually brought to life.

      What I love about Tati is that his humor is so delightfully visual – what wouldn’t sound very impressive or funny “theoretically and on the page” works beautifully when brought to film. So many of the scenes in his films are uproariously funny to me not because it “seems” like they should be funny, but because his performance and his choreography and his visual and aural sense make them hilarious.

      For that matter, I’m not sure what the comment about critics is supposed to mean either (other than that some people seem to like to come up when reasons why that single-minded entity known as “critics” admire things that other people don’t, and why they aren’t looking at the “full picture” that general audiences see) – I’ve never noticed a trend of them liking films because they sound good “theoretically” or because they look good “on the page.” I imagine a lot of the critics who like him (because, of course, different critics are going to have different reasons for liking him, and some aren’t going to like him at all) like him because he’s so visually inventive and because his humor is so thoroughly “filmic” (that is, he uses the elements of films to his full advantage to create works that are singularly “cinematic.”)

      Comment by Thomas C. | September 10, 2011 | Reply


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