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There are movies I think I seem to walk into when I need them most. All About Lily Chou Chou is at once a kind of emotional voyeurism as it is a criticism of emotional voyeurism. Anyone who indulges in media, the reason we watch movies, read books and listen to music, is in it for the emotional value. It's a form of emotional vampirism. It's a brief interlude in our lives. But we don't come out of it different people, even if we'd like to think so. Musicians put up their feelings for show. Records are out there to make money. The face we put up for other people is a lie.

Lily Chou Chou is the deconstruction of Hoshino: middle school student, head bully, small-time pimp and hardcore Lily fan. Offline, he terrorizes his classmates, blackmailing one into prostitution and arranging for the rape of another. Throughout, he is a silent spectator, handing down orders but never dirtying his own hands, watching other people in their worst moments, but never participating in anyone's downfall directly himself. Online, he's Blue Cat, the shy new member of a Lily Chou Chou BBS run by Lilyphillia.

We follow Hoshino's three years of middle school, online and off, through the eyes of Yuichi, aka Phillia, moderator of the aforementioned BBS and Hoshino's first real friend. Yuichi first comes into Hoshino life as his protector during the first year of school, when Hoshino becomes the victim of bullying from upperclassmen. Hoshino introduces Yuichi to the surreal music of Lily Chou Chou, a singer introduced to him by Kuno, his major crush from elementary school. A broken home, an Okinawan holiday, bearing witness to a violent accident and a near drowning later, Hoshino's character changes from that of a victim to that of an oppresor. Yuichi's role changes to that of a runner in Hoshino's gang. He watches over Tsuda, a classmate Hoshino blackmails into prostitution, steals CDs and runs his BBS, where he understands the nature of Lily Chou Chou's musical Ether more than anyone else.

What makes Lily Chou Chou interesting is, firstly, the broken narrative that makes the film. This is a personal interest -- I'm fond of narratives that basically tell you to be quiet and keep watching without really making sense for the first hour or so, but many people would probably find this very annoying in minutes. That is, the narrative has dates, but it won't help you much when time flips forward and backwards like the flickers of memory. It serves to immerse the watcher into both Yuichi and Hoshino's perspectives at the same times. Like Hoshino smoking outside the warehouse in which his gang rapes his first crush, like Yuichi crying outside at the same spectacle, like the eerie soundtrack singing, "I see you, and you see me," we are watching these things and trying to make sense of it, if we can. Framing this narrative are snippets of BBS threads. The silence within the noise here is visceral. The conversations people have online are more natural-sounding than the ones people have amongst themselves offline. Blue Cat has no trouble with his emotions online. Phillia says what he wants and gets the respect he craves as master of his BBS.

Offline, the relationship is reversed, as Hoshino takes out his frustrations by dominating the people who once looked down upon him, and Yuichi subverts his thoughts to provide grudging, though still relatively unquestioning, submission.

Secondly, there are those eerie BBS conversations, conducted to either silence or the reverant soundtrack provided by "Lily herself". Here, Yuichi and Hoshino conduct conversations that, removed from the reality of master-slave, are extensions of their lost friendship. As the story progresses, and Hoshino's abuse of Yuichi increases in its terribleness, both characters fall even deeper into depression. The only "normal" thing left that bonds them is the love of Lily Chou Chou. Hoshino's depression takes the form of increasing internalization -- so much so that when faced with the prospect of actually meeting the person online who understood him to his core, he bolts. Yuichi's depression, on the other hand, becomes a desperate need to reach out.

The third is director Shunji Iwai's incredible knack for showing things exactly as they are. Throughout the movie, nothing feels contrived or put on about what the young characters go through. It's truly frightening to see how cruel people can be to each other this way, frightening and beautiful. The director pretty much shouts out how much innocence we lack as a species, whatever the age. I wasn't much sold on Ichihara Hayato's despondent Yuichi, finding him altogether too spaced out, but Oshinari Shuugo's brooding Hoshino definitely smoked and breathed the part. Oshinari's Hoshino is menacing by how little he does to his surroundings, and chilling by the tiny warnings leading up to his breakdown as he transforms from a polite young man to the leader of his pack. Also worth mentioning is Aoi Yuu's Tsuda Shiori, the child prostitute. Beginning as a grudging follower, she grows into her position and comes to accept it, just enough to make us believe she's stronger than she is. Her role in Yuichi's transformation leaves a sudden vacuum as palpable to us as it is for him.

I once heard said the soundtrack's title character was inspired by Faye Wong. The BBS conversation at the start of the film wave the merits of various divas ethereal, including Bjork and Shiina Ringo. To me, Lily Chou Chou sounds closer to a kind of Fiona Apple. She's far too growly to be Wong Faye, not entirely pretentious or dischordant enough to be Bjork (in the film, it's Lily's fans that are pretentious and creepy), not fancy enough to be Shiina, might be inspired by Cocco, actually, if I think about it. Most of what I heard was alright, makes me curious enough to go look up Salyu, who played Lily in this film, just to see what the rest of her is like. Chou Chou refers to a butterfly, so much is made throughout the film by the fans about Lily's Ether, a mystical cocoon in which Lily ponders her musical thoughts. The characters explore this cocoon largely by sitting with headphones in rice paddies looking immensely sad. Contrived though these moments may sound, they are artfully shot, taking full advantage of spacing out to the music, to kites and flying, to the arched shadow of a back about to fall. There are plenty of gems within this film upon which to ponder. My only complaint would be the way the Okinawan holiday and rape scene in the middle was done, mostly by Handycam, along with all the arty bumps, glitches, upside-down and out-of-focus shots that come with the deal. There are great moments here as well, including the use of passing around the camera as a humourous introduction to an unfortunate character and seeing the world through the eyes of a horny pre-teen. But those bumps and glitches accounted for a lot of the included airtime, and certainly, with regard to the rape scene that was both painful and painfully long, less art would've been just fine.

Again with the rape scene, it was deliciously painful. It would've been so easy to show a sex scene flavoured with violence. Instead, Mr. Iwai showed us the rape through the eyes of the accomplices involved, making that scene all the more cruel because we are clearly watching this from the view of emotional vampires -- we are the voyeurs, feeling as excited and as disgusted as we would watching a puppy being torn apart.

The final laugh in our faces of all this, again, is just that emotional voyeurism through which we experience Lily Chou Chou. The ending is monstrous, a testament to both how little we see inside other people but how much we like to see them bleed. The joke appears to be just how much we'd pay to see this done. As a troll on the Lilyphillia forum states, "This looks like a cult," -- and everyone else sinks into the ether.



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 12th, 2006 06:15 pm (UTC)
Your review is much more intelligent and nicer than mine was.

I really had a hard time getting into the movie, but I'm glad you enjoyed it.
Oct. 12th, 2006 06:39 pm (UTC)
Yours was the review that reminded me I wanted to watch this too. :)

I shall continue this thought there now, but thanks for the kind words!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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