All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001, Shunji Iwai)

Supposedly the first Japanese film shot in 24p digital video, which accounts for its unique look, esp. the wild color in outdoor scenes, but also its annoying handheld shakiness which would become widespread by the end of decade. The middle/high-school kids are obsessed with pop singer Lily (according to shady IMDB trivia, inspired by Faye Wong), are also incredibly shitty to each other. Prime focus is on two boys, Hoshino and Hasumi, former friends but now tormentor and tormented. Each has his own problems at school, but is secretly (and online, hidden behind screen names) deeply moved by Lily’s music. At the end, I think (nothing is quite clear, at least not to me) the bullied Hasumi, denied entrance to Lily’s concert by Hoshino, knifes the bully to death after also discovering that Hoshino is junior member “blue cat” on the forum. And I’m thinking young Hasumi is forum admin “philia,” but again, not sure.

Hoshino with Hasumi over his shoulder:

Forum posts appear in the middle of the movie screen, sometimes overlapping the scene but usually just white text over black. This should get tiresome (it did for reviewers, I see) but I never got sick of the texting conceit or the length of the movie (hello, Noriko’s Dinner Table), just of the brutality between/among the kids. Just as I’m never visiting Italy after watching Gomorrah, I am never attending middle school in Japan after watching this

Bad girls:

I love that outdoor night scenes are shot with big green spotlights on the actors, complete with obvious shadows. It’s stylish and effective. In the middle of the movie, Hoshino and friends use stolen money to go on vacation to Okinawa, leading to a lengthy, punishing overuse of the handheld aesthetic.


Movie had a few beautiful moments, a few embarrassing ones (middle school was terrible, and I used to talk that way about music I loved), but mostly I felt like I’m about ten years too old to be watching it and wondered if the people putting it on their best-of-decade lists weren’t all 17 in 2001.

Suicidal Shiori Tsuda:

Older boy Hoshino: Shugo Oshinari was in Battle Royale II. Other boy, Hasumi, Hayato Ichihara stars – stars! in Miike’s new God’s Puzzle. The girl who’s raped and shaved bald (did I mention it’s a cruel movie?), Kuno, is Ayumi Ito of nothing else I’ve heard of, and the girl who’s coerced into prostitution, Shiori Tsuda, played a title character in the director’s follow-up, Hana and Alice. After that, I lose track of which kid was which, and, in fact, what happened and when. Reviewers mention the jumbled timeline of the story, and I thought it was linear so I obviously missed more than I realized. I did like it overall, but I don’t think I’ll ever be watching it again to get my facts straight.

Shaved Kuno:

Reverse Shot:

Iwai returns to the image of students standing alone in glowworm-green fields, attached to headphones. It’s risky, a consummate music-video image, especially with Iwai’s phosphorescent digital palette, and I’m not even sure it ever entirely escapes that. But with its repetition after the murder at the end of the movie—one of the students standing and listening is Shugo, killed a few minutes earlier—these Elysian fields come to replace the traditional blackout’s “return” to reality out of the dream life of cinema. As the text of credits are superimposed, the uniquely personal experience of these lonely bucolic listeners becomes inseparable from the chat rooms and concerts, where they are unified with that pop-culture infinite—the fan base. As if communing with an angel across great distances but with special intimacy, the students and Lily Chou-Chou contain one another as they share that experience with millions.



What is interesting, however, is that the film not only does not proffer to give answers but, intentionally or otherwise, feeds into our bafflement, in two ways. Firstly, the world in Lily is presented as one in which not only are its teenagers behaving as such, but its adults are also, at best, powerless, ignorant and, at worst, in complicity. Witnessing the ostracising of the class pianist, the teacher capitulates to the persecution by entreating the bullies to perform and promising that the pianist will play no part. A female teacher’s only response to the assaulted Kuno (Ayumi Ito), now also shaven, is to offer her a wig.

All About Lily Chou-Chou transforms into a mood piece, self-consciously eschewing account and explanation, less concerned with analysing our bafflement than it is with simply our bafflement itself, as if with the detached curiosity of an observing alien.