ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU (Shunji Iwai, 2001)

A film composed almost entirely of fleeting and sometimes esoteric sensations, Shunji Iwai’s Riri Shushu no subete aims nonetheless at a complex portrait of contemporary young Japanese teenagers. The superficiality of the film is, one supposes, correlative to the superficial lives, thoughts and feelings of these children.
     Iwai’s rough, perpetually near-epileptic use of handheld camera conveys the degree of dissociation these junior high school children experience. But perhaps nothing is so on the mark as the system of unity that Iwai has devised to hold together the film’s essentially discontinuous series of flashes and sometime vignettes. About a dozen times I thought the film had ended, but it went on. This attenuated style vividly conveys both the emptiness of these lives and the children’s own ambivalence about lives they desperately wish to hold onto even as they are loath to have them continue.
     Yuichi, the protagonist, is bullied at school but compensates for this with an alternative cyber-identity, in which capacity he commandeers a site devoted to Lily Chou-Chou, an unseen yet ubiquitous pop singer whose “ethereal” music is inspired by Debussy—a duality that itself reflects the existence of her schizophrenic fans. Yuichi, who is caught shoplifting even as his pregnant mother is convinced he is “a good boy,” is close to impossible—and some of his peers are worse. Adults, including teachers, seem unwilling even to attempt to control and discipline children who are unruly, violent and plain nasty. In short, society is in chaos; when Yuichi must fetch the bully a Coke, one recalls that U.S. capitalism and commercialism greatly helped undo Japanese society and traditional culture, beginning with the American occupation following World War II.
     Disagreeable, repetitious, tedious, cruel, brutal. However, a few lyrical passages affectingly show lonely lives.

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