All About Lily Chou-Chou

All About Lily Chou-Chou

-

All About Lily Chou-Chou

The "kids of today"—violent, disaffected, alienated, obsessed with pop culture—are central to a recurring theme in contemporary Japanese cinema, but few imports have addressed it with the heartbreaking acuity of Shunji Iwai's All About Lily Chou-Chou. Adapted from Iwai's Internet novel, an interactive project shaped partly by reader response, the film mimics the aimless, unformed rhythms of adolescent life so precisely, it can be just as off-putting as the average 15-year-old. Drifting through time and space without firmly situating the viewer, Iwai's elliptical style requires patience, but also a willingness to be carried along by its gorgeous, dreamy lyricism. More than anything, Iwai wants to capture the "feeling" of being a teenager, specifically one who might be hung up in the Björk-like wallow of Lily Chou-Chou, a mysterious singer whose vaguely ethereal songs attract a cultish following on the Internet. First seen crouching in an idyllic rice field with Lily's new album piping through his Discman, Hayato Ichihara treats her music like the soundtrack to his sad life, taking refuge from the brutal cliques and bullying of junior high school. A passive, inscrutable character with few real friends, Ichihara hosts another sanctuary by hosting a "Lilyphilia" web site, where he and other "Lilyholics" meet in anonymous chat-rooms to make connections that are seemingly impossible in person. Flash back to two years earlier, when the 13-year-old Ichihara takes pity on a fellow outcast, the scholarly Shûgo Oshinari, and the two spend their summer vacation in Okinawa, where his new friend nearly drowns. When they return, Oshinari turns the tables on the school bullies and becomes the school's most fearsome gang leader, terrorizing his former tormentors and pimping a quiet girl (Yû Aoi) to older businessmen. At 146 minutes, All About Lily Chou-Chou drifts along without the grounding force of a more purposeful story or hero, relying instead on the chancier prospect that its evocative impressions of adolescent life will carry the day. Iwai's arty self-consciousness takes some getting used to, but as the film slides inexorably toward a devastating third act, it seems to tighten its grasp on the sad, painful remove that governs its young characters' lives. The kids treat each other with shocking viciousness (and, in Ichihara's case, even more shocking apathy), but Iwai suggests that the real tragedy is that they're all in the same boat, bottling their common angst in the space between their headphones. All About Lily Chou-Chou takes a wayward route into their addled minds that a more conventional film would never find. —Scott Tobias

More DVD Review