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.
By GRADY HENDRIX
(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.
"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 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 lily-holic.com 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|
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Reader comments on All About Lily Chou-Chou:
lily from bbetty, May 8, 2002
DVD from mateo, Jan 5, 2005
AALCC from mel2surf, May 19, 2005
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