From the opening scene, the green rice fields and blue sky filling the screen, the main character standing alone, cut off from the world and cocooned inside the headphones feeding music by his favourite pop star Lily Chou-Chou straight through to his soul, this is a film about teenage isolation and the pain it spawns. It is by degrees dark and disturbing, light and humorous, painful, challenging and ultimately deeply affecting.
Partially inspired by Canto-pop phenomenon Faye Wong, a cross-cultural project collaboration with Edward Yang and Stanley Kwan, a Taiwanese earthquake (read the introduction at www.lily-chou-chou.com and you’ll understand) and the exceptional musical talents of Takeshi Kobayashi, All About Lily Chou-Chou took its final form from the web. Director Shunji Iwai has taken direction from the real-life dynamics of internet chat sessions surrounding the fictional pop icon to astonishingly modern and relevant effect, incorporating not only the ideas evoked and supported by the online participants but their actual thoughts and words. This alone makes this film more than an experience: it gives the spirit of the web, its potential to isolate the individual while transcending normal cultural/social divisions, substance, a voice with which to speak. The characters are living not inside the net but inside themselves, removed from others, their only salvation the lyrics of pop songs, their only meaningful connections those of the faceless community in cyberspace who share their interests.
A barrage of text, Noburu Shinoda’s gorgeous cinematography and the haunting strains of Debussy, All About Lily Chou-Chou is less pop and more poetry and the young cast are magnificently capable. Hayato Ichihara’s victimised, internally passionate Yuichi is simultaneously mundane and breathtaking, while Shugo Oshinari’s misunderstood bad boy Hoshino is deeply despicable yet at times worthy of even deeper compassion. Of special note, Yu Aoi’s school-age call girl Shiori Tsuda and Ayumi Ito’s silent prodigy Yoko Kuno are both very different yet touchingly painful in their performances. Iwai’s direction is both delicate and confrontational as safe, meaningful lives on the net become traumatised by brutal reality in a world where the only meaningful connections are the ones which shut the world out.