Film: Shimotsuma Monogatari (Kamikaze Girls)

30 September, 2009

Shimotsuma Monogatari

I watched this film a few weeks ago and was totally bowled over. It had been on my radar for a number of years now since its release in 2004, but I wasn’t particularly drawn to it as I had no interest in the gothic lolita trend that was sweeping Japan and slowly travelling to the West. But Shimotsuma Monogatari was a bright, funny and poignant film about friendship, fitting in and chasing your dreams.

The style of the film is similar to that of director Tetsuya Nakashima’s subsequent film Kiraware Matsuko no Isshou (Memories of Matsuko) which I saw a few years ago, a technicolour pop extravaganza that seems to be at odds with its weighty themes but works brilliantly.

The protagonists Momoko and Ichigo, played by two of Japan’s most talked about actresses Kyoko Fukada and Anna Tsuchiya, are both charmingly contrary and you can’t help but want them to succeed. There are a lot of comic moments in the film, especially in the beginning when we are a given a technicolour kaleidoscope of Momoko’s background and upbringing, especially her petit yakuza father’s dodgy business: flogging pirate brand goods which became a surprise cult hit.

After getting caught and threatened with legal action, Momoko and her father make a quick getaway to live with her grandmother in a sleepy town called Shimotsuma, where the locals all shop for clothes at Jusco, Japan’s Wal-Mart. Momoko, who spends all her time alone, has one passion, and that is for the lolita fashion brand Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. It isn’t cheap to go all the way to Tokyo to shop for clothes and Momoko soon needs to look for ways to fund her lolita fashion lifestyle, and she does so by selling her father’s long-forgotten knock-offs. And that is how she meets Ichigo, a member of the local ladies motorbike gang, Ponytails. The two strike an unlikely friendship and the film follows their transformation as they realise what they mean to each other.

Shimotsuma Monogatari is a comic, yet poignant, portrayal of smalltown Japan, slowly vanishing as it is consumed by the ever encroaching urban sprawl. The message I got was that wherever you are, you should follow your dreams and that there is always someone you can bond with even in the most unlikeliest of places. I know it sounds cheesy, but what a great film.

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