Thursday, January 12, 2006

Kamikaze Girls: DVD Review

Kamikaze Girls (2004) tells the story of an unlikely friendship. Momoko is a Japanese girl fascinated with 18th Century Rococo French culture. Her outlandish, lacey baby-doll outfits make her a misfit in her small, isolated cabbage-growing town of Shimotsuma, where everyone shops at Jusco (the Japanese equivalent of Wal-Mart) for fantastic bargains on Polo shirts and Versace knock-offs. She develops an unexpected friendship with Ichigo, a biker girl on the total opposite end of the spectrum of extreme Japanese fashions, a "Yanki" given to spitting and kamikaze jackets and streetfights and shaved, painted-on eyebrows.

The film is told in the most hyper, manic, insanely detailed, kinetic style. It will suddenly slip into cartoon mode or silent, grainy 16mm footage. Characters unexpectedly float or fly or walk through a bucolic fantasy of 18th century French countryside. Momoko speaks to the audience or rewinds a scene to give some backstory. Think Trainspotting. Or rather think Trainspotting if it kicked heroin, took the red-eye from Edinburgh to Tokyo, rode the Shinkansen bullet train to an isolated rural Japanese village where it sat in a cabbage field and did mescaline and crystal meth crumbled into a tumbler of ether with a float of Percocet jimmies. Watch the original Japanese trailer and you'll get the idea.

It's a wonderful, inventive little movie about the way individualism can often lead to isolation, and about how two people, even polar opposites, can find unexpected solace in an intense and sudden friendship. And though the movie is basically sweet at heart, it's never overly gentle on our heroes: the movie exposes the way in which even the most delicate, sweet, girlish demeanor often covers brutish and selfish impulses, and a tough exterior often covers for a weak and overly sensitive soul.

I'm not familiar enough with Japanese culture to say to what extent the film may have been manipulating or exploiting youth culture: maybe kids in Japan had a more cyncial attitude towards the film. (I might, had the film been American, have felt the same.) But from the outside, it all seems original, genuine and fun. Momoko and Ichigo are real, honest characters, and we're genuinely concerned for them and interested in what happens to them.

I think the English title "Kamikaze Girls" is rated X for Xtra retarded. Maybe the more straightforward Japanese title A Shimotsuma Story just wasn't catchy enough?

I suggest, from the DVD menu, choosing to watch the film in "Sideways Mode." This does not show the film sideways as the name might suggest, but instead, in Sideways Mode, a little cabbage (don't ask) appears on the screen from time to time. Select it with your remote and you'll have the Japanese pop-culture and extreme fashion jokes--Yanki, Lolita, Jusco, Yakuza, Pachinko, or whatever--explained to you. The DVD also has way cute interviews with the two stars as an extra.

On the whole, very sweet, fresh, original, wonderfully strange and funny.

FilmStocker Rating: A


Blogger SusanV said...

Hi, thanks for the review. I was wondering if the movie would be okay for kids--specifically a 9-year-old.

Enjoying your blog!

8:19 PM  
Blogger FilmStocker said...

It really depends on the 9-year-old. I think a kid would love the movie's speed and humor and inventiveness. Its message of individualism and friendship in the face of opposition is awesome for a young person. They would learn so much about Japan, too!

The child would have to be accustomed to movies with subtitles, though, and Momoko's father is in the Japanese mafia, so there's a bit of violence, but things are kept--for the most part--on the light side.

Just a great movie all around that I'd recommend. If you have a daughter, she'll be demanding you take her to Japan after the movie!

9:42 AM  
Blogger SusanV said...

Oh, she already asks to go to Japan. That child's ready to see the world!

Thanks so much for your answer and your reviews. I really appreciate people who can write intelligently about movies. I have a tendency to get to "I really liked it" and run out of things to say! :-)

4:53 PM  
Blogger FilmStocker said...

Thanks for your kind words.

Your daughter sounds like a kid after my own heart!

Happy viewing... and let me know what you both think of the film.

7:28 PM  

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