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Kamikaze Girls

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Kamikaze Girls

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Runtime: 102 minutes
Cast: Kyôko Fukada, Anna Tsuchiya, Hiroyuki Miyasako

A frenetic, candy-colored odyssey through the netherworlds of Japanese popular culture, Kamikaze Girls opens with a dazzlingly inventive sequence in which the heroine, a frilly-dressed "Lolita" played by Kyôko Fukada, introduces herself. Through a blistering montage sequence—replete with freeze-frames, fourth-wall asides, sudden splashes of animation, and a decorous flashback to 18th-century France—Fukada reveals the following information: She was conceived the night her father, a failed yakuza wannabe, met her mother, who was projectile-vomiting outside a nightclub; she adores the carefree, decadent rococo style of 18th-century Versailles and dresses accordingly; and she's woefully out of place in a backwater village where the residents all shop for bargain fashions at a Costco-like behemoth department store. Within 10 minutes, director Tetsuya Nakashima reveals all that needs to be said about Fukada—her peculiar obsessions, her dysfunctional family life, and her painful isolation from mainstream culture—yet the movie keeps spinning its stylistic wheels anyway.

Always decked out in a bright, lacy dress with matching bonnet and parasol, Fukada lives among cabbage vendors and rice patties in rural Japan, where her father (Hiroyuki Miyasako) scrapes by on proceeds from his knockoff Versace merchandise. Her only refuge comes in daylong pilgrimages to Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, a faraway Tokyo boutique that stocks her elaborately embroidered fashions. Worlds collide when Fukada meets Anna Tsuchiya, a rebellious, short-tempered biker chick who's as coarse and aggressive as Fukada is demure and passive. Their unlikely friendship gets off to a rough start, mainly due to Tsuchiya's habit of spitting and head-butting with abandon, but their bond grows in proportion to the soul-crushing conformity that surrounds them. The question is, what kind of future do these young outcasts have, together or apart?

If the title is any indication, the answer is "not much of one," though Kamikaze Girls could still stand to be more consequential. The story's main thrust involves the duo searching for a legendary embroiderer, whom they hope will stitch a special robe for the departing founder of Tsuchiya's motorcycle gang. Not exactly the stuff of nail-biting suspense, but Nakashima does his best to keep the flimsy enterprise afloat, mostly through whooshing camera movements and headlong dives into the grotesque extremes of Japanese kitsch. By the end, the effect is like eating a bellyache's worth of cotton candy.

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