At Film Space on Saturdays at 7 pm
April is “The Month of Feel Out of Place” at Film Space. May, “The Month of Surreal.”
Film Space is to the right and in the back of the CMU Art Museum, in the Media Arts and Design building across from the ballet school. Showings are in a classroom on the second floor or on the roof, weather permitting. A contribution is requested in the donation box at the entrance – you should leave at least 20 baht. Well worth supporting.
At Film Space Saturday, April 24, 7 pm: All About Lily Chou-Chou / Riri Shushu no subete /リリイ・シュシュのすべて,(2001) by Shunji Iwai – 146 mins – Japan/ Crime/ Drama/ Music/ Thriller. The film follows two childhood friends from the end of their junior high school run until the beginning of high school. The film has a discontinuous storyline, starting midway through the story, just after high school begins, then flashes back to junior high and summer vacation, and then skips back to the present. In junior high, Hoshino was the best student in school, but was picked on by his classmates. He was skilled at kendo, and had a good-looking young mom. Yuichi, on the other hand, was a quieter boy who fell in love with the music of the odd musician Lily Chou-Chou. During a group trip to Okinawa, Hoshino had a traumatic near-death experience and his personality changed from good-natured to dangerous and manipulative. In high school, he takes his place as class bully and shows his newfound power by ruining the lives of his classmates. Generally favorable reviews: 65 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: Ah, to be young again and experience anew the horror show that is youth. In Shunji Iwai's All About Lily Chou-Chou there is nothing redeeming about the adolescent years. It's an out-and-out war among teen peers. If viewers were shocked at the frank depiction of sexuality and violence in Larry Clark's Kids, then they'll flip over All About Lily Chou-Chou, which is just as gritty and twice as rough. Yuichi Hasumi (Hayato Ichihara), Shusuke Hoshino (Shugo Oshinari), and their cohorts artfully dodge a string of life-threatening nightmares and seek release through overactive involvement in cyber culture, pop music, and celebrity. Hasumi plods through junior high school guarded and mostly mute, but in the soft cocoon of cyberspace he proves to be ravenous for joyful expression. He and his classmates abide by an unwritten code that these impulses are voiced only in the stunted dialogue of a chat room dedicated to the fictitious pop star, Lily Chou-Chou. Meanwhile, the same kids spend their days sitting in classrooms run by bullies and are fed a regular diet of public humiliation, petty thievery, and straight violence. Iwai has established himself in Japan with such films as April Story, Swallowtail Butterfly, and Picnic, and is known for "cool" subject matter. It’s obvious in seeing All About Lily Chou-Chou that he is a clear barometer of pop trends. The ecstatic compositions and ample palette of shockingly lush colors provide a unique, private, happy ending.
Spike Marshall: For anyone who had to deal with bullying, or knew a victim of bullying, All About Lily Chou-Chou will probably be an ordeal. Its lucid, vivid, and repellently uncompromising look at social isolation and bullying would probably cut a little too close to the bone. Not that Lily Chou-Chou is the first film to deal with such issues (bullying is after all a fairly generic cinematic trope), but it is rare that the issue is dealt with in a way that is both lyrical and incredibly visceral. Whilst most other films offer a buffer zone of detachment Lily Chou-Chou forces the viewers to feel and relate to its young stars through its near documentary style of film making.
Despite this documentary stylization film is stunning to look at, its color palette and design ethos giving vibrancy to an altogether rather bleak film. Shot entirely on DV cameras the film has a sort of ethereal quality, a point reinforced by the hazy and often dreamlike narrative. If anything Lily Chou-Chou feels like a film which is suffering from post traumatic stress, its recollection of scenes hazy and confused, events cutting off and merging haphazardly. As such we are largely only offered glimpses of the story; key events delivered without context which all build up to create the central arc of the film. A contributing factor to this haphazardness is the way the chronology in the film works, or to be more honest doesn’t.
All About Lily Chou-Chou follows two Japanese schoolboys as they leave Junior School, go on a summer vacation, and attend the first year of High School. Yuichi is something of an introvert, devoting his time to the running of his fansite and listening to the music of Lily Chou-Chou. He has a few friends at school which is more than can be said for Hoshino, the academic star of his year whose success has ostracized him from the rest of his peers. The film opens in high school with Hoshino having already turned on all around him and set himself up as a vicious and brutal bully. His relationship with Yuichi is never fully explained until about thirty minutes into the film when the narrative doubles back on itself to examine the previous year’s events.
In a lot of other films the boys bonding and eventual trip to a sunny locale (in this case Okinawa) would be handled with a light and breezy touch, the sleight of hand to prepare you for the sucker punch of the next two acts. What Lily Chou-Chou does is cast a shadow over these moments of exuberance; we know that Hoshino is going to turn out bad. But by looking at these happier times with foreknowledge of his present situation everything becomes a little darker, a pall is cast over every event and the viewer finds themselves searching for links as to Hoshino’s change in behavior.
Our first encounter with Yuichi is as a miscreant and then as a victim, our first encounter with Hoshino is as a victim and then a miscreant. The establishing moment for Hoshino is a speech he is forced to read on behalf of his classmates explaining their hopes and aspirations for high school. You can see the duality immediately, the pride at being chosen for this honor conflicting with his persistent knowledge of his classmate’s hatred.
This trip to Okinawa during the school holidays is funded by the aftermath of a petty theft, the boys descending on a robbery and sprinting away with the loot they find. It is Hoshino who makes the first move and invariably secures the money for the boys and it is another layer added to the character. He is already acting out by this point, but without the context of the schoolyard or his later violence. It is only during the trip to Okinawa and a series of near fatal accidents that Hoshino truly withdraws from the group. His near Shakespearean fall into isolation and near madness is juxtaposed against the stories of those whom he abuses and allows to be abused. Indeed, the last hour of the film is so shocking because of the fact that Hoshino is so calculating. His actions are carried out with a cool, detached, malice and his crimes become more and more unspeakable.
A film which started off as an average treatise on school life suddenly descending into a brutal, nihilistic, vision of a schoolboy kingpin who blackmails his schoolmates into prostitution, organizes a brutal gang rape and ritually humiliates one of his closest friends. Indeed Hoshino’s first two acts aren’t particularly violent but demonstrate a cruelty and malice that is utterly disturbing. We first see him betray Yuichi (setting his gang on his former friend and destroying his prized CD and CD player) and then we see him assert dominance over the school bully by stripping him of his pride. He doesn’t particularly harm the bully; he just makes a mockery of him in a detached and sociopathic way.
His snapping of Yuichi’s copy of the new Lily Chou-Chou CD is perhaps far more significant than any other action in the film. It’s a severance of ties between him and his old friend and also a pollution of the ‘ether’ a spiritual energy which Yuichi and Hoshino talk about on their website. The major indication of the extent of this action is the fact that the near continuous soundtrack is ominously missing for a few minutes after this action. In fact it doesn’t return until the film goes back into itself for the flashback. Music plays such a large and vital part of the film that its sudden absence feels almost like an assault and its conspicuous absence suggests the destruction of purity far better than anything else in the film.
At its core All About Lily Chou-Chou plays broadly with the corruption of innocence idea. The corruption of the Ether (a term used several times in the film) a pretty apt metaphor for the corruption of innocence taking place within the children’s lives. Music is the only escape Yuichi has from his tormentors and the only way he can truly connect with his fellow victims. The text message excerpts from his website explain how easily people fall into the lure and escape of the Ether and the final scenes go a long way to corrupting even this last bastion. Indeed Yuichi is not really a victim in a traditional sense, only suffering one physical abuse at the hands of Hoshino’s gang. More than anything else the damage is done by how he is forced to integrate into Hoshino’s ever expanding gang, given the menial task of watching over the schoolgirl Hoshino has turned into a prostitute.
The film offers no real answers to the problems of bullying and to expect it to would be rather moronic. What it does is paint a real picture of what it is like to be a victim of a bully and how innocuous and random their dislike can be. The overall message is rather distressing; the film seems to revel in unilateral action as the only way to fight against bullying. As such suicide, self sacrifice, and murder are the only solutions the victims are left with. Whilst the film seems to drift toward melodrama at points, the rape scene and the fate of a girl doomed to be a child escort both feel perhaps a little detached from the general narrative, the effect of the Digital Photography always grounds it at least in a facsimile of reality.
That is the odd dichotomy at work in All About Lily Chou-Chou its ethereal elegance matched with material that is indicting in its reality. It is a tale that is both supremely stylized and at times hyper real. It is a film that is utterly shocking and morally depressing but that is also lyrically beautiful and bursting with color and vitality. Every technical aspect is remarkably polished even the fictional score by Lily Chou-Chou is the kind of music that is enrapturing and alluring and it all works to make the impact of the film even more brutal.
May is “The Month of Surreal” at Film Space.
At Film Space Saturday, May 1, 7 pm: The Wayward Cloud / Tian bian yi duo yun / 天邊一朵雲 (2005) by Tsai Ming-Liang – 114 mins – France/ Taiwan, Comedy/ Drama/ Musical/ Sci-Fi. The film was Taiwan's official entry for the 78th Academy Awards in the foreign-language category. There is extensive male and female nudity, although not full-frontal. It grossed more than million Taiwan dollars in its theatrical release in Taiwan, which was an amazing commercial achievement for the Taiwan film industry, more than twenty times the usual Taiwan films. Generally favorable reviews: 66-71 out of 100.
Rotten Tomatoes: As the people of Taipei face a lack of water, some turn to watermelons for their succulent fruit juices. Meanwhile, a young woman falls for a man without realizing he is a porn star. Surreal and... As the people of Taipei face a lack of water, some turn to watermelons for their succulent fruit juices. Meanwhile, a young woman falls for a man without realizing he is a porn star. Surreal and fantastical, The Wayward Cloud tells its story slowly and with style, often breaking out into charming musical sequences.
Independent, Anthony Quinn: Features the most explicit use of a watermelon ever filmed.
BBC, Jonathan Trout: As the people of Taipei face a lack of water, some turn to watermelons for their succulent fruit juices. Meanwhile, a young woman falls for a man without realizing he is a porn star. Surreal and... On one hand, The Wayward Cloud is a tender urban romance, punctuated with vibrant 50s-style song and dance numbers. On the other, it features extended bouts of unflinchingly simulated pornography, sudden injections of black physical humor, and nary a word of script. It's the madcap finale to a loose trilogy from Taiwanese director Tsi Ming-Liang, and whilst emphatically not to all tastes, fans of the obscene, the experimental, and the outrageous should make every effort to get along.
Set in a modern city against a major drought and a national obsession with watermelons – bear with me – it's the story of a quiet girl, Shiang-Chyi, who meets a boy, Hsiao-Kang, in a park outside her high-rise apartment block. With the only line in the movie, she recognizes that he once sold her a watch, from which a gentle intimacy grows. Unknown to her, though, he is now working, only a few floors up, as a porn star – a secret that cannot stay hidden forever.
Relentless nudity, interminable faux-porn gruntings, and that striking muteness combine for a pervasive sense of voyeurism. We watch entranced as the characters tiptoe through one another's lonely lives – until we are shunted awake by the musical interludes. Comic and lavishly produced, these sequences – one featuring giant dancing penises, another sees Hsaio-Kang as a merman – shatter the dingy, dramatic dripfeed, give voice to the characters' inner feelings, and keep things impressively weird right up to the eye-watering climax.