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1 review, 4 user ratings

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Kamikaze Girls
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by Jay Seaver

"One of the best, most energetic teen movies in years."
5 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2005 FANTASIA FESTIVAL: The movies Hollywood markets to teenagers, especially teenaged girls, pay a certain amount of lip service to being one's own person, but when it comes right down to it, they still focus on acceptance by the group. The girl is revealed as a conventional beauty when he glasses come off, or the group's idea of what is acceptable expands slightly, or when they're feeling really hip and cynical, there's one or more murders that could have been avoided if only someone had paid more attention to these misunderstood kids. Happily, Nakashima Tetsuya's "Kamikaze Girls" isn't like that - it's a fast-paced comedy that celebrates individuality as much as friendship.

Momoko (Kyoko Fukada) is an individual, no doubt about that. Believing that she should have lived in Rococo 18th-Century France, she dresses in frilly dresses that most girls abandon by the age of eight or so, refuses to eat anything that isn't sweet (why should one's life contain both sweet and sour?), and practices embroidery in her spare time. She probably would never have met her classmate Ichiko (Anna Tsuchiya) if not for the latter responding to an ad Momoko had placed to sell her father's knockoff "Versach" clothing; Ichiko is a tough-talking, kind of slow "Yanki" biker girl who starts hanging around for reasons Momoko doesn't immediately grasp (other than her grandmother's bike). Momoko isn't really interested in having friends, but Ichiko is maddeningly insistent.

That is, of course, the simple, straightforward version of the story (though not as short as the way Momoko first relates it). Much of the fun comes from the digressions - Momoko is narrating this movie, and one can hardly expect such an eccentric personality to simply tell it in a linear manner without embellishment or commentary. So we get digressions, like an animated version of Ichiko's tale of the queen of the bikers, or Momoko's horror at her neighbors' suggestions she just do her clothes shopping at Jusco rather than taking three hours to ride four trains to Tokyo. That sequence, for instance, has Nakashima borrowing techniques from manga, with shots suddenly freeze-framing and being captioned to look like catalog photographs, and other scenes will have explanatory captions, pointing out where the wrong symbol is sewn onto Ichiko's cloak as an example. Momoko doesn't just narrate, but also occasionally turns to address the camera (and audience) directly, Ferris Bueller-style. There are fantasy sequences, cartoon violence (Ichiko's tendency to head-butt Momoko when she feels insulting or patronized would probably not be funny in a more realistically-staged movie) and character designs even more outrageous than Momoko's silly frocks - check out the two-foot pompadour on Ichiko's first crush - and everything else Nakashima can cram into 100 minutes to help him tell these girls' story. Pre-MTV audiences may get a headache, but kids process this amount of information with relative ease. And while the environment and presentation is often outrageous, the film works because the central characters are believable in all their insane trappings.

Take Kyoko Fukada as Momoko. She's more than a bit of a brat, telling manipulative lies to her father to get money she spends on her absurd clothing, and the way she treats Ichiko at first walks the fine line between disdain and contempt. Her world-view is selfish, and it's tough to imagine what this 17-year-old girl will do when she graduates high school. The thing is, it's also pretty easy to believe that she'll figure something out. She's resourceful and creative. As much as she claims to celebrate her frailty as a feminine virtue, she has a tendency to do very well at anything she puts her mind to. She's even generous, in her fashion (as she puts it, she wouldn't dream of returning something she borrows, and wouldn't expect anyone else to return what she lends them). As different as they are, it's not hard to see why Ichiko is drawn to her - despite the elaborate costume, there's no artifice about Momoko.

Anna Tsuchiya probably has the harder role as Ichigo. It's tempting to characterize her as slow, but loyal, but that's not the characterization of a person - that's a pet dog, which isn't the character Ms. Tsuchiya creates at all. Ichiko is loyal, but not easily led, and I think that's the key to her. She recognizes Momoko's self-confidence even though they seem to have nothing in common, for instance, and doesn't blink when it comes time to stand up to her peer group. Although her backstory has her emulating the biker woman who told her that a woman can't cry in public when a 14-year-old Ichiko was sobbing by the side of the road, there's no cop-out about the biker girl persona being a front - she wouldn't have gone along with it if it hand't been something with real appeal to her. Miss Tsuchiya also has one of the most devastatingly funny double-takes going, especially during the inevitable (and hilarious) scene where Momoko has to confront the group of bikers.

Momoko and Ichiko aren't the only crazy characters, of course - they're ably supported by a veritable rogue's gallery, especially Hiroyuki Miyasako and Tyoko Shinohara as Momoko's parents and Kirin Kiki as her equally-eccentric grandmother. The film is absolutely packed with silly bits; even though it's about 17-year-old girls, it should have an audience that extends well beyond that - the leads were nominated for the Japanese Academy Awards, for instance, which I doubt is the mark of a disposable teen movie there any more than it would be here. And despite the paucity of even potential boyfriends, this isn't a movie about two outsider girls falling in love (that's kind of a cliché by now, isn't it); it's a movie about friendship, not romance.

I hope this movie gets decent distribution in the U.S.; a subtitled teen movie is a tougher sell than it should be, even if the film potentially has broader appeal. There will, by the end of the year, be a ton of awful movies that only pretend to be half as empowering for teen girls as this one actually is.

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originally posted: 07/15/05 23:29:07
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2005 Fantasia Festival series, click here.

User Comments

9/05/08 karamashi A fantastic film~ A chick flick that finalyl kicks ass! 5 stars
6/17/06 BlackAssasine this film is just awesome!! go and watch it!! 5 stars
5/01/06 Saki Utterly fantastic - my new favorite. 5 stars
3/07/06 Gorbag Very eccentric, insight into small town Japan 4 stars
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