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All About Lily Chou-Chou (Shunji Iwai) 2001

 

    By now, Iíve been thoroughly convinced that in the right hands digital video can look just as stunning as film. Perhaps no greater example yet exists of the beauty achievable when one is a master of the digital aesthetic than Shunji Iwaiís All About Lily Chou-Chou. Despite the near-absence of special effects, the movieís visuals are often more gorgeous and otherworldly than your average sci-fi flick. The reason that the movieís striking landscapes achieve this sort of resonant emotional distance is because the characters that inhabit them are so disconnected from the seemingly undeniable splendor that surrounds them. Though Iwaiís imagery is sometimes simplistic, like when he uses a negative color scheme to show the role reversal between a bully and his victim, itís always attractive. In its best moments, the Lily assumes a non-narrative stance as we just soak up the hurt that movieís alienated teens feel as the images float by and music by the BjŲrk-like Lily Chou-Chou fills the soundtrack. The more casual the movie feels, the better it works. Itís the scenes that feel the most random, such as a half-hour long sequence that chronicles a vacation to Okinawa using hand held camcorders (providing more brilliant visuals, such as when a fireworks display turns into a streak of pixilated colors), which you most fondly remember.

 

    Unfortunately, much of Lily Chou-Chouís substantial two and a half hour running time is taken up setting up the schematically planned downfall of the cast of well-educated, but misguided outcast teens that make up its cast. Despite the three-year epic sprawl, the chain of events seems to come too quickly to feel natural. We understand within the first few minutes that these kids find it easier to communicate with each other when hiding behind their screen names in a Lily Chou-Chou chat room than when face to face, but the movie belabors the point, and suggests that this alienation from reality is nothing less than deadly. Itís not necessarily a bad point to make, but itís sometimes delivered clumsily. After Yuichi, the webmaster who runs the website, is reprimanded by his mother for shoplifting, they donít have much to say to each other, but he immediately begins posting online about the birth of Lilyís creative process. Such a simple 1:1 correlation between their dual lives seems stultifying in its simplicity. For a more insightful, if less impeccably filmed, look at the estrangement of modern Japanese youth, Iíd recommend Akihiko Shiotaís Harmful Insect.

 

* * * 

07-18-02 

Jeremy Heilman