Loss of Innocence in All About Lily Chou-Chou

Movie: All about Lily Chou-chou (Riri Shushu no subete)
Director: Shunji Iwai


With its shaky hand-held cinematography, chrnologically disjointed plot and nihilistic portrayal of youth, the Japanese movie All about Lily Chou-Chou (2001) is a love-it-or-hate-it kind of film. Usually I prefer movies that are more linear, less experimental; however, the imagery and themes in the movie resonated with me long after I watched it.

Yuichi Hasume is a quiet, shy and passive junior high student. He does not speak much, but instead expresses his feelings on the website he runs dedicated to a pop-singer named Lily Chou-Chou (played by Japanese indie pop singer Salyu). Yuichi seeks comfort and solace in her music but he comes to find that music also has the power to amplify his emotions, not just soothe them. The only person who seems to understand him is an online friend that regularly visits his online forum.

In addition to his online friends, he has a small circle of friends in the real work, but the boys are not popular and are sometimes insulted and bullied. The summer before they enter high school, the boys take a trip to Okinawa. On the beach, one of the friends, a bright student named Shusuke Hoshino, almost dies from a freak accident. When the new school year starts Hoshino has become the most aggressive bully around—extorting money from his former friends, forcing one classmate into prostitution and raping another, all the while involving Yuichi in his harmful acts.

This is a film about teenage life, but it is not about growing up—the characters do not really mature; it is about disillusionment and loss of innocence. Yuichi lacks the strength and self-confidence to resist Hoshino, and in aiding his former friend, he is slowly destroying his own soul. There are a few moments of humor, some beautiful shots (Yuichi listening to his discman in a green field; a team of kites dancing in the sky at sunset) and enchanting, ethereal music by Salyu, but on the whole, the story is filled with a sense of melancholy, hopelessness and despair.


How could Hoshino have changed so suddenly. How does a good student become a mini-demon in just one summer? Wouldn’t someone who almost died be grateful for having a second chance? Wouldn’t they embrace a “live this day as if it the last day of your life” philosophy? Why did Hoshino change in such a negative way? During the visit to Okinawea, the boys meet an ill-fated bird-watching traveller. Speaking about nature, he says that for humans, who just visit nature from time to time, the wilderness is a place of beauty, but for the creatures that actually live there and who are trying to survive every day against their competitors and their predators, nature is hell—death could come at anytime from anywhere. Even a tree can strangle another, deprive it of light, deprive it of life, just as Hoshino’s evil suffocates Yuichi. For Hoshino, his escape from death might have only emphasized the arbitrary nature of suffering. There is no order, no plan, no reason—just death. It is inevitable; if it does not come today, then maybe tomorrow. Life becomes meaningless; life becomes hell. In All About Lily Chou-Chou, there are only brief respites from hell— a few fleeting moments of beauty and adventure and the occasional warmth that comes from understanding and care.

The final tragedy comes when Yuichi attends Lily’s concert and discovers a secret about his online confidante. The solace he was able to find in his virtual world dissolves into reality, and Yuichi, completely disillusioned and in despair, is at last provoked into action.

IMDB Page: www.imdb.com/title/tt0297721/


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