Shunji Iwai

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Re: Shunji Iwai

#26 Post by colinr0380 » Mon Sep 09, 2019 4:14 am

Re-watching All About Lily Chou-Chou on the new Film Movement Blu-ray, I still find it incredibly powerful. Not quite so much for the bullying, abuse and suicide/murder structure at the forefront of the action but for the little devastating moments in there that capture the utter emotional devastation of losing a sense of certainty or security about one's place in the world. There is the moment of the mother having her image of her son destroyed by finding out he shoplifted, even if it was only a single CD (luckily she did not know about the larger scaled smash and grab raid just before!). And then there is the 'blending' of pre-existing families together is tackled extremely briefly, with the single mother (we don't know whether the father died or left) starting a new relationship with a man who has his own son, who casually talks about the way that both of the pre-existing boys have to change their names to accommodate their parents (the woman's son his surname, and the man's son his first name from having the suffix "-ichi" to show that he is not the oldest boy in the family any more), along with the mother being shown as pregnant with a new child from this new union who will be the only child with both biological parents in the family. The new father is not portrayed as bad at all (in fact he even gives the new son, Yuichi, spending money for his night trip bike ride), but its the situation that has caused the upheaval for the children on a more long term basis than even for the parents themselves.

Then there is the ersatz family of school clubs and eventually peer created social groups, which exist as much around who they exclude (or position themselves against) as who is celebrated and included.

All of them adrift within the society that is supposed to have a place for them, but as we can see by the regular appearance of middle aged to elderly salarymen, seemingly only there to be kicked around, abused and robbed of their wads of cash and promissory notes (when they are not preying on female students), there is little security on display elsewhere either. Maybe that is what causes Hoshino to do the mid-film turn into gang boss, treating the school and students within it like a prison that he needs to exert brutal control over, initially taking down the previous head bully but suddenly becoming just as bad if not worse (running organised prostitution rings is quite a step up from being cruel to another classmate over their hairstyle and roughhousing with them!). Perhaps after his near death experience on the island holiday (and seeing the left in limbo fate of the traveller they regularly meet on their trip), he feels there is no structure except that which is made by ones self, and takes that to hideous extremes.

Perhaps the most devastating aspect is how entwined the internal and external worlds are. There is no escape from other classmates even when you want to be away from them outside of school, and eventually even the online 'safe space' of Lily's ether provides no respite. Because the same human beings in the real world are online too (and this was a film that came out decades before 'cyber bullying' became a mainstream term).

Everyone has a past history and along with the sharing of culture that provides both the moments of potential connection. The girl, Kono, who first introduced Hoshino to Lily (who himself introduced it to Yuichi) but has kind of 'moved beyond' Lily into the singer's influences of Debussy and Satie, gets the most brutal treatment from Hoshino whilst Yuichi looks on impotently. But the one hopeful aspect is that she has a wider cultural world beyond both of them, and the clique of bullying schoolgirls, that she can not be totally destroyed by the events she is put through.

Unlike the other girl, forced into prostitution, who Yuichi tries to share Lily's music with and who commits suicide. As the booklet essay says, she finds 'no escape' in the music which in the rest of the film has been elevated to such status by Lily's online fans. Which suggests that no matter how beautiful and 'ethereal' music (or any other cultural artefact) is in isolation, it can still be 'rotted' by the context of how it gets used. So Lily's 'pure' music of the Ether, introduced to Shusuke by Kono becomes the music of the abuser, passed on to his subsequently abused friend (who loves the music so much he creates a fan web forum about it), which he 'accidentally' interests the prostituted girl in, almost as a 'compensation' for her experiences. That's not the fault of the music, but it illustrates the incestual web of interconnections between people and the culture that they consume that only becomes more devastating at the final concert.

There is often a suggestion that these commercially created, existing 'out there' music acts are floating somewhere far away from the experiences of 'ordinary people', and that they should do so because they are creating an alternate escapist universe for people with troubles to dive into, for however brief a moment until they have to confront the brutal reality again. For the longest time in the film the online space is that too, with messages about Lily's work fortified by the release of new albums (though of course that causes Yuichi problems in his 'real world' life by shoplifting it rather than being able to buy it, as all of his money has been taken by Hoshino. And being one of the people running the forum devoted to the singer he really needs to keep up with what she is releasing!) and discussion of her 'Ether' in general.

I particularly love the way that the messages from Yuichi (under the username "philia") develop in the early part of the film from more impersonal ones describing the forum and what the Ether is and the history of Lily's band, to eventually dropping in 'informational' posts about her "Arabesque" track being based on Debussy (which comes from the teacher called in by the store who caught him shoplifting the album), to eventually the posts developing into how certain tracks remind him of better times a year or so before which spins the film off into the big flashback that takes up the middle of the film. It is as if even in the new online space people cannot stop bringing their humanity to it, for better or worse. And eventually "philia" and "blue cat" have a series of exchanges on the forum that feel as if they really connect together over the music.
Which eventually falls apart in the planned meet up at the concert where "blue cat" turns out to be Hoshino, who has still retained a love of Lily's music despite becoming an abusive monster, and he unwittingly provides Yuichi with the totem he was going to pass on to "philia" as he gets bored of waiting for this mythical online friend to arrive, whilst Yuichi himself is dealing with his own traumatic revelation of the identity.

Simultaneously to this the crowd of Lily fans gets humanised on a wider scale and turns out to have cliques all of its own, some actively antagonistic against others. Some people even voicing the heresies that Lily might not even sing her own songs. Or exist at all! Which makes Yuichi whipping the crowd up into a frenzy by saying that Lily is in the crowd somewhere the ultimate confirmation of her 'ethereality' and attack on the nature of blind love. And a cover for a crime of passion.
Its a devastating climax, as whilst eyes are opened to the 'true nature' of the world and the lackings of cultural artefacts to 'save', what else is there but human interactions? This is the 'everyone is connected' film that suggests how problematic and inescapably tangled those connections can be. It is also the rare film about the online world that truly understands that the online world is what people in the real world make it (for better or worse) rather than transforming the 'pure' real world into something corrupt. Perhaps the worst thing about the online world is that it offers the invitation to fly away from the ties that bind but that siren song is often ended too soon, and can often leave the dreamer to come plummeting back down to earth with a bump.

Maybe this particular cultural artefact (the singer and their music) has become inescapably tainted for the group of characters we have been following (and will always mark a particular time in their lives), but maybe there is other culture out there that is yet unaffected by that stigma that will be able to provide comfort to all of them? No cultural artefact can truly 'save' someone in a true, physical sense, but on a more hopeful note perhaps all artefacts hold within them that promise of true, positive connection that can at least make things seem bearable for a while and might actually lead to forged connections between people that are impossible in the real world. Maybe that is why we still see all of the (surviving) characters in the field listening to their CD players over the end credits, not just emphasising that interwoven web of connections, but that they may all still be searching for their own 'Ether' out there.

And really the other hope is that all these relationships seem inescapably intertwined only because the characters in these awful situations, upsettingly, are still schoolchildren dealing with all of these issues (and this is all taking place over the span of one to two years). Soon they might not be in contact with each other at all, and have entirely separate lives, and things will not feel so inescapable after that? (Or not as the case may be, as suggested by the meeting between the teacher and the guy at the record store after the shoplifting incident, who appear to have been schoolmates)

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Re: Shunji Iwai

#27 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Sep 11, 2019 3:39 pm

"You never knew what to post, but we were obviously acting. However eventually that pretend feeling started to go away...and things started to get kind of scary. Some people were obviously playing a part but Director Iwai's characters continued to develop and created a strange sense of synchronicity"
Poster: kakky

It was also my first time of seeing the 90 minute making of documentary "Breathe: All About Lily Chou-Chou" on this new Blu-ray (the old Optimum/ICA UK DVD edition from the early 2000s had the theatrical trailer was otherwise bare bones), and this turns out to be a deceptively essential companion piece to the film itself. Created by one of the people who contributed to the forum, the making of opens with a description of the "Yen Town Report" BBS board that was created in advance of the film, where Iwai created material and posts as various characters but also anyone else could contribute to it as well, and eventually details of the teen angst and eventual murder plot got fed into the forum for the participants to react to. Then we get a few interviews with real people who were posting on the forum at the time, including a few people who actually appear briefly in the scene of the crowd waiting outside of Lily's concert near the end of the film.

That is really the key to what makes the film so interesting, as the teen plot material is rather conventional in many ways (as well as being a little overwrought) but it is the way that it is told that feels so exciting. Finding out from the documentary that a lot of the posts are a mix of the created and actual user postings is probably what explains why it feels like such a good film to capture the sense of an internet forum. And it makes a certain sense that the blending of 'reality' and the fiction reaches its climax again in the concert scenes, as it turns out that all of the extras (including many of the people from the website) were given little bits of motivation for how to act during the scene provided on randomly distributed cards, from the standard one of having lost their ticket and looking to score one desperately before the concert starts, to the unfortunate one of desperately needing to find a toilet!

And then there is the section involving the filming of the boy's trip to the Okinawa islands, all filmed from their videocameras, and having to practice their shots for the director! Lots of the best moments of the film come from allowing for those happy accidents of life to creep into the upsettingly pre-determined story (and there is that amazing extract from one of 'philia's' posts that would probably have been too on the nose for the film but really explains the whole shift of Hoshino to being an uber-bully after the trip, when Yuichi talks of wishing that he had actually died in the accident rather than had been saved, as that would have both saved all the people hurt in the subsequent events as well as kept Hoshino as a 'good person'. But of course in the timeline we are seeing, that did not happen and the happier times are confined themselves to a single character's flashback).

Much of the documentary is conventionally following the mechanics of shooting, but the way that it times and dates the whole production process, so we see how various scenes from across the film were shot at different periods, is very valuable. Major scenes like the Okinawa trip, the actress learning to play Debussy on the piano, the shooting of the concert sequences (with brief cameos from both Hideaki Anno and Kon Ichikawa, who came to visit on that occasion!), the rehearsals for the a capella school performance, and of course the head shaving in preparation for Kuno's shock post-assault reappearance get focused on. There's a lot of great material there that it would have been nice to have had the chance to see twenty years sooner, but better late than never!

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