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    All About Lily Chou-Chou

    Lily pop

    An invented cyberstar rules the pop charts and teen hearts worldwide in "All about Lily Chou-Chou," a sizzling look at adolescence and culture that was partly created on the Internet.


    (Originally reviewed at the 2001 New York Film Festival.)

    Coursing down a DSL line as fast and frantic as a telephone signal, "All About Lily Chou-Chou" is a high-velocity view of adolescence, streaked with tears and seen through the cracks in a keyboard. Shunji Iwai's return to the epic, after a series of gorgeous still lifes ("April Story," a reworked "Fireworks: Should We See Them from the Bottom or the Side"), he reunites with musical collaborator Takeshi Kobayashi to create a hormonal pop opera that resounds, for those tuned into its wavelength, with all the weight and grandeur of Wagner's "Gotterdamerung" set in a rural Japanese high school.

    Written and directed by: Shunji Iwai.
    Cast: Hayato Icihara, Shugo Oshinari, Ayumi Ito, Yu Aoi.
    Cinematography: Noboru Shinoda.
    In Japanese with English subtitles.

    Related links: Official site
    New York Film Festival 2001

    All About Lily Chou-Chou
    Blue Wild Angel
    La Cienaga
    Fat Girl
    The Royal Tenenbaums
    Mulholland Drive
    Sobibor, October 14, 1943, 4 p.m.
    Waking Life
    Va Savoir
    Y Tu Mama Tambien
    "Chou-Chou" has gestated in Iwai's mind since 1995, a hungry monster that tried on various forms — a gag screenplay, an unfinished novel — before finally emerging as a feature film, plotted online in a chat forum by hundreds of anonymous users, centered around a fictitious pop star, the disappearance of a nonexistent website dedicated to her music, and the imaginary "ether" from which her music springs. From a straight narrative point of view the movie is about high school students fumbling through life, lorded over by a sadistic bully, Hoshino. These cloddish and inexpressive kids' inner lives blossom into tangles of idol worship online where many of them run websites about, post about, gossip about, worry about, and endlessly worship Lily Chou-Chou, a fictional pop idol created by Iwai for the film.

    The celluloid begins to draw blood when the narrative heaves itself back in time to Hoshino's first year in high school, and we see with heartaching clarity how these kids got to where they are, how friends became enemies, and how a trip to Okinawa (shot as a boring vacation video that accumulates incident and mishap until it becomes a mind-expanding jaunt into a land of Amazonian nature worshippers and sudden brushes with death) became the catalyst for a bunch of good kids to grow up and fall apart as they misinterpreted what they thought adulthood had in store for them. Misreading its threat, they twist their bodies and souls into weapons to deal with it: some retreat into a moral-free limbo while others, like Hoshino, become the monsters they believe life will reward them for being.

    But there's an extra dimension to this movie, an online dimension as hundreds of chat posts (some taken whole from the actual chat room, others fabricated by Iwai) offer a simultaneous, on-screen counter-narrative. Iwai's solved the problem of how to make keyboarding work in a movie as the film lurches and jerks to the twitchy rhythms of touch typing. The soundtrack runs rampant across the CD racks, with Kobayashi's heart-aching compositions bleeding into Debussy. The cast of a thousand first-time actors is deployed like an army, popping up as poster children for teen angst, as eternal combatants in the savage social hierarchy of high school, as saints and sinners, soldiers and civilians, victims and victimizers, objects of dread and pity, pimps, whores, sadists, perverts, pacifists, otaku, shoplifters, victims, musicians, and fans.

    Shot on high-definition video, the movie blooms off the screen like a pixelated wave — a million multicolored microscopic fireworks illuminating the upturned faces of its audience. Breathtakingly ecstatic, "Lily Chou-Chou" is a pulsating, shimmering mirage of humanity in a moviegoing landscape rubbed smooth and uncomplicated by a thousand Styrofoam blockbusters. It demands something of its audience: concentration, patience, a strong stomach for harrowing emotions. But it gives back what it takes as a soaring wave of light and sound that washes over you, and carries you out to sea.

    NOVEMBER 19, 2001

    Reader comments on All About Lily Chou-Chou:

  • lily   from bbetty, May 8, 2002
  • my thoughts on the movie   from angelika, Jul 11, 2002
  • Re: my thoughts on the movie   from Jam, May 21, 2004
  • Lily chou-chou   from Malcolm, Jul 24, 2002
  • Lily..   from Ian, Nov 7, 2002
  • Lilyphilia   from etherAddict, Mar 26, 2003
  • the movie   from , Oct 22, 2003
  • Frightening, Sad very good.   from Kyo, Jun 24, 2004
  • Incredible   from Kelly, Sep 17, 2004
  • inspiratinal   from robert taylor, Sep 21, 2004
  • All About Lily   from J, Nov 24, 2004
  • ^__^ excellent   from Kenneth, Nov 24, 2004
  • blue cat   from blue cat, Nov 24, 2004
  • DVD   from mateo, Jan 5, 2005
  • It made me wish...   from J C, Apr 15, 2005
  • Awesome movie, awesom actors!   from Christina, May 13, 2005
  • AALCC   from mel2surf, May 19, 2005
  • its great movie   from carlos, Mar 15, 2007
  • great movie   from kic, Mar 19, 2007
  • Bullyism in Japanese Schools   from Lalit Rao, May 10, 2008

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