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  • Robin Syversen

KAMIKAZE GIRLS (2004)

Updated: Apr 11

A bizarre journey through the back alleys of Japanese cult cinema!



Director: Tetsuya Nakashima

Cast: Kyôko Fukada, Anna Tsuchia, Hiroyuki Miyasako, Sadao Abe, Eiko Koike

Related films: Memories of Matsuko, Survive Style 5+, Taste of Tea

Verdict: 4.5/6


Background

Kamikaze Girls is like the poster-girl for Harajuku fashion and Japanese quirk. It is possibly the best example of postmodern Japanese pop-art you will ever find on film. Leave your logical reasoning at the door, get ready for an all-inclusive 5-course assault on your senses, and join in on a bizarre journey through the back alleys of Japanese cult cinema.


From the very first scene director Nakashima sucks you into his universe of Japanese lolita kawaii, yakuza track suit fashion and biker gang extravaganza. To top it off, he sprinkles the wild visuals with crazy anime cut scenes and an eclectic soundtrack of punk rock and Johan Strauss. Kamikaze Girls got it all… and then some.


The peak of Harajuku fashion and Japanese quirk cinema might be a thing of the past, at least in the sense of media coverage and popularity. The subculture prevails however, and Kamikaze Girls embodies much of its attraction. It is a tribute to individual freedom, and a big middle finger to Japanese conformity and conservatism.


Plot

Momoko is a young girl obsessed with rococo outfits. Due to this slightly manic fascination she has developed a keen sense for designing and making such outfits. This is noticed by a Tokyo designer who begs her to join his team. Her life is like a fairy-tale dreamland in which she gets to work with the thing she loves most.


It all sounds like fun and games and cotton candy and unicorns, but Momoko soon realizes that work, in all its shapes and forms is a hassle. Before long she decides to quit and live by her new mantra: It is more fun to shop clothes, than to make them. As she so eloquently puts it: Labor doesn’t become me.


Between the lines

To be frank, the story doesn’t really go anywhere, and the narrative momentum is virtually non-existent. Luckily, the visual feast alone is enough to keep you entertained for the most part. Loads of nonsense encounters and hilarious characters also add some value, which excuses the serious lack of substance.


Then again, lack of substance might be the whole idea. It certainly seems a fitting reflection of the entire Harajuku phenomenon. The extreme focus on appearance, accessories and style could surely be argued to be a comment on Japanese youth, or subculture, or society as a whole. Who knows? It is more fun to watch films than to engage in the politics behind them. Social commentary doesn’t become me.


Parallels

As for genre, it is close to impossible to categorize Kamikaze Girls on paper, but we’ll give it a go anyway. It is a mishmash of comedy, tragedy, action, drama and gangster film all in one. In film-theoretical terms it can be described as a modern take on Japanese new wave cinema, pasted onto an expressionist setting, and spiked with slapstick humor from start to end.


Shortcomings

The third and last act of the movie stumbles a little. The attempt to connect nonexistent narrative threads, in order to concoct some sort of story-line climax, significantly lowers the excitement level. When our attention is steered away from the brain-numbing explosive design, the narrative shortcomings becomes all the more evident.


The ending would probably have worked better if the film just gave in to its own nonsensical form and focused on visual extravagance to the very end. The story in Kamikaze Girls is hardly important. It mainly serves as a canvas for Nakashima’s wacky antics. This film is all about appearance, and its appearance is a joy to behold.


Conclusion

Kamikaze Girls is a must for fans of Survive Style 5+, Taste of Tea, Yatterman or even Tampopo. It is like nothing you have ever seen before. It is truly unique and truly fun, as long as you don’t expect any sort of meaningful story. Over the top outfits, kitschy settings, ridiculous characters and nonsense is what Kamikaze Girls is all about, and what a delightful trippy fairy-tale it is.


Kamikaze Girls looks razor sharp in HD. The intense mix of strong colors and crystal clear images takes perfect advantage of the medium. The region free Blu-ray release from Third Window Films is the best version we have seen. Unfortunately, it appears to be out of stock pretty much everywhere. Second-hand copies are probably your best option. As for DVD’s, the copies we have watched was halfway decent, but didn’t really do the film justice.

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JCA - Robin Syversen
M.Phil: Japanese Culture Studies
Thesis: Rearticulating Japanese Cinematic Style
Guest Lecturer: Japanese film history (UiO)
Film blogger: Z Film Quarterly Znett.com
Contact: jcapostbox@gmail.com
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