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.