Kamikaze Girls

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One of the strangest little buddy films you're ever likely to come across Kamikaze Girls is a syrupy, luridly colored confection shot through with just enough grit, heart and absurdist humor to prevent it from ever descending into cloying, irritating sweetness. By all rights the two utterly bizarre lead characters should be nothing more than cartoonish caricatures but, surprisingly, both finish out the film as fully fleshed out, fully three dimensional human beings and it is the film's ability to find the true heart of all of the bizarre denizens of this strange little world that elevates it out of the world of pretty teen fluff and, potentially, into the world of the cult classic. It is, in short, far far better than any film as self consciously strange as this one has any right to be.

Japanese pop idol Kyoko Fukada stars as Momoko, a quiet, isolated girl who chooses to live her life utterly alone, with as few emotional attachments to her peers – it would be a misnomer to refer to friends, as she has none - or family as is humanly possible. Momoko is also smitten with the fashion and culture of the Rococo period, dressing in lavishly frilly dresses bought at her favorite shop in Tokyo: Baby The Stars Shine Bright. This strange affection for lace and frills would, no doubt, make Momoko stand out anywhere but in her remote rural village in Shimotsuma, a Japanese backwater known for producing cabbage and little else, Momoko is positively freakish.

The other half of the buddy equation is Ichiko, a biker chick who sneers, spits, swears and head butts a blazing path through Momoko's life after arriving on Momoko's doorstep to buy some cheap knock-off Versace clothes made by Momoko's father, a pathetically failed yakuza. With a sneer always twisting her face and her mouth running at a constant, furious pace as she tools about the countryside on her heavily customized scooter – Ichiko not being old enough yet to ride an actual motorcycle – Ichiko is brought to live by Anna Tsuchiya, here filling a role as far away from the shy, demure Go playing high school girl she brought to life in The Taste of Tea.

This being a buddy film you already know how the film goes plot wise. The girls clash, they bond, there is a crisis and the power of their friendship eventually allows them to triumph. As far as plot structure goes it's all pretty standard stuff, nothing that hasn't been done before, but the fun of Kamikaze Girls lies not in the destination but in the route. Kamikaze Girls is a deliriously over the top, every trick in the book fun ride. If there were any available camera tricks the film doesn't use I certainly couldn't tell you what they are. The colors are deliciously over saturated, editing is rapid fire, the film jumps through film stocks and blue screen techniques, there is a pair of spectacular anime sequences, Momoko's fantasy life frequently plays out on screen, and, well, you name it and it's in there. The film plays like nothing so much as a live action anime with all the goofy tricks, bizarre characters and extreme camera angles that implies. But while most attempts at adapting anime fail because they simply lack a convincing human heart Kamikaze Girls rides the fantastic performances of both Tsuchiya – obviously a talent to watch – and Fukada to great effect. Heart this film has o'plenty.

Freshly out on DVD in Hong Kong and soon to arrive on North American shores there's really no reason to miss out on one of the best Japanese films of 2004.

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ChrisAugust 31, 2005 3:54 AM

Ichigo is actually played by Anna Tsuchiya from Taste of Tea. Well, you put Tsuchiya in the last paragraph, but Anne Suzuki in the third so make up your mind. :p

Todd BrownSeptember 1, 2005 12:24 AM

Gah! Brain cramp, there ... that's what happens when you write these things fresh off a night shift ... fixed now ...

Brian NaasSeptember 1, 2005 2:26 AM

KG is especially fun to see with an audience that finds every ludicrous detail and whimsical thought a hoot. Back in June the distributor had plans to give the film a theatrical release in the states - not sure if that is still in the cards - but it would be interesting to see how mainstream audiences reacted to this film - this isn't your typical Asian fare that gets into theaters and I would love to see a comedy do well. I would also love to see roccoco fashions make a comeback!

GigaloffSeptember 2, 2005 3:40 AM

Just saw this the other night. Absolutely wonderful. I never thought I'd see another film as funny as the Life Aquatic this year, but this is it. Along with tLA,Land of the Dead, Strings and Sin City it's a movie P'll see many, many times in the coming years. Check it out!

Mr. VersacSeptember 2, 2005 4:07 AM

Has anybody got the HK DVD yet? Beenw aiting for a review before I commit to buying it as there are US (and Korean?) releases coming as well.

Todd BrownSeptember 2, 2005 9:37 AM

I've got the HK and it's pretty middle of the road ... not as good as the recent Mei Ah discs, not as bad as old Universe ones. Transfer's passable but noticably grainy ... The US isn't far off now so unless you're really itching for it I'd wait for that to release and some comparisons to come out. This thing is so strong visually that I'd aim to get the best transfer possible ...

logboySeptember 4, 2005 5:39 PM

watched the film last night. although its clearly a teenagers movie, it doesnt contain the typically familiar america approach to such films - must be a paculiarly japanese approach to the genre. the style is very vibrantly colored and weird in all its key aspects, but its not over the top or rather its grounded and not rediculous; if you remember the kind of cilps youve seen of japanese TV shows, youll see some of those elements here in the onscreen graphics, colors, the overall fun and sillyness of it all. the characters are exaggerated to a large extent (almost characatures) but again well grounded in real behaviour. the visual style reminds me of 'survive style 5+' in many respects, as does a certain amount of the overall approach. great acting, fast and solid directing. beautifully constructed and one of those positive experiences thats quite touching too.


btw : the disc seems to be ported from the R2J as i could see no lack in quality there - the subs are well translated but not perfectly laid out on the screen. no extras on there - but the films the main issue, and its one of the best ive seen in a long time.
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OpusJuly 26, 2007 7:54 AM

Saw this about a month ago at the Flickerings program, and enjoyed it a lot -- as did the rest of the crowd. Completely over-the-top and insane in so many ways, but with just the right amount of pathos and melodrama to keep it anchored... relatively speaking, that is.