Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
This week’s film features two Japanese teenage girls who meet, get physical, and eventually develop strong feelings for each other. And just like that, I’ve succeeded at giving those of you who know me a wholly incorrect representation of the movie.
Like many teenagers, Momoko (Kyoko Fukada) feels like she’s alone in this world. But unlike many of her peers, Momoko actually prefers it that way. She’s obsessed with rococo, the overly ornamental and elaborate style from 18th century France, and it fills both her daydreams and her wardrobe. “It made baroque look positively sober” she says at one point. Frilly outfits, parasols, and an aloof and carefree attitude are all she needs to make it through the day in her somewhat rural town where everyone is obsessed with bargains over craftsmanship and buys all their clothes from the local Jusco megastore. (Of course, in Momoko’s view everyone is born in a tracksuit in this town too.) We first meet Momoko in a rapid-fire montage introducing us to her life. It includes her and her father abandoned by her mother, her father’s attempts to sell Versace and Universal Studios merchandise knockoffs (as Universal Stadium/Versach combo couture), and her discovery of the rococo era. She has few cares and imagines she’ll die at age 80 when a “robo-janitor” will find her still wearing her frilly dress…
But those dresses don’t come cheap, so one day Momoko places an ad to sell some of her father’s old Versach merchandise and into her life walks Ichiko (Anna Tsuchiya, who looks like a sexy, Asian Christina Ricci). With her deep voice, ocularly offensive “Yanki” outfits, and penchant for head-butting and drop-kicking those who cross her, Ichiko is everything Momoko is not… including a member of the super tough, all-girl motorcycle scooter gang, The Ponytails. She pushes her way into Momoko’s life for reasons of her own and soon the duo are becoming awkward and unexpected friends. But nothing worth having comes easy… Momoko’s dream job at her favorite boutique, ‘Baby the Stars Shine Bright’, becomes a conflict, as does a dramatic confrontation between Ichiko and her gang. Can their perilous friendship survive this clash of personality, culture, and wardrobe?
Sounds pretty straight forward doesn’t it? (Well, unless you’re also looking at the three images here.) But trust me when I say that there is not a single dull frame in this movie. From beginning to end the screen is filled with color and motion and energy and animated farts. Real life turns to daydreams of Momoko living in Marseilles in the 1700’s, one character’s story is told in anime (“Here’s a cartoon version to keep you kids awake!” Momoko says to the camera), and a discussion about the affordable fashions at Jusco turns into an Old Navy commercial of sorts. One of the most entertaining side characters is an uber-cool dude named Unicorn Ryuji (Sadao Abe). The girls swoon, the guys are in awe, and his hair is the most hilarious coif since, well, any Nicolas Cage movie. It’s all wonderfully absurd and lively and you can’t help but be caught up in the pure visual joy of it all.
Fukada and Tsuchiya both bring fantastic life to their characters, and while the movie is surreal and unrelentingly imaginative the friendship at its core is believable because of them. One prefers a life of sweet simplicity, but she’s unaware of why exactly she prefers such an isolated life. The other feels a need for connection but is used to only rejection. Together they learn about themselves, each other, and the true importance of friendship. “Humans are cowards in the face of happiness,” says Momoko as both a revelation and a realization, and that truth is a universal one for us all. Especially all you friendless cowards out there.
Director Tetsuya Nakashima takes every opportunity to imbue his film with color and magic in a style similar to parts of the classic and beautiful Amelie. A budding friendship takes the place of that French film’s love story which makes the heart of it all a little more difficult to see at times… it’s a lot of flash that occasionally risks hiding the substance. Just as Momoko occasionally lifts up from the ground and floats towards the sky, she always returns to earth. The movie does the same with its uplifting and eye-catching visuals eventually giving way to more traditional scenes that can seem slow by comparison.
Kamikaze Girls is definitely not a film for everyone. It’s high points are so mesmerizing and attractive that the more traditional scenes pale in comparison to the degree that they may just be considered boring. (But they’re not.) The lead characters may be difficult to relate to with their ridiculous wardrobes, oddball behavior, and strange, foreign language, but that’s all just window dressing on a sweet tale about an unlikely friendship between two girls who never expected it. It’s impossible not to find something to like in this cinematic Crayola box with its goofy and endearing humor, surprising degree of heart, immense visual beauty, and endless creativity. In fact, you’d have to be some kind of soulless and blind bastard (who probably shops at Jusco) to come away from it untouched. Just saying…
This region 2 release from Third Window Films includes a second dvd full of extras including a fun and relaxed forty-minute making-of, a Japanese trailer, interviews with the director and both leads, a music video from Tsuchiya, workprint footage, and several trailers for other Third Window Films releases. The best extra on the disc though is a very funny short film called “Unicorn – Ryuji.” It’s an origin of sorts for the Ryuji character and it is hilarious.
The Upside: Very humorous visuals, expressions, and performances; visuals are stunning and lively; strong story about friendship
The Downside: A few slow spots; may be too ridiculous for some viewers