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Original Title:
Shimotsuma Monogatari

Japan 2004


Tetsuya Nakashima

Kyoko Fukada
Anna Tsuchiya
Hiroyuki Miyasako
Sadao Abe
Eiko Koike
Shin Yazawa
Hirotaro Honda
Kirin Kiki

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Kamikaze Girls

Story: Momoko (Kyoko Fukada) is a loner, who is living in her own pretty little world. Fascinated by a french style of art, Rokoko, she wears odd dresses, that look like a mixture of the kind of clothes women wore in the 19th century in Europe and the stuff you dress babies with nowadays. She prefers to live at her father's side, a former wanne-be Yakuza who is now specialized in copying several articles of famous brands, than to live with her mother, who left family, because of her gynecologist.
Momoko lives like that happily and without any friends. However, one day when she needs money for new dresses once again, she sells a few Versace-imitations of her father to a wild and barraging girl who is a member in a women motorcycle gang. Since that day she sees the girl, Ichiko (Anna Tsuchiya), frequently, always being involved in the most odd situations because of her. Soon, something like a deep friendship starts to evolve between the two.

Review: You have never seen anything like "Kamikaze Girls" before. Right from the start, when the female protagonist is hit by a pickup car and shortly before the presumable deadly impact on the street tells us about her life story, we know that we have to expect a movie that will deprive from any common narrational and visual standards.
The movie tells its story the way Momoko sees the world, with all of its garish and lively colors. The teenage girl is only interested in her odd dresses, taking the viewer on a journey into a world of refreshingly colorful pictures and doing so the director is always telling this extraordinary tale with a wink. Momoko often turns around in front of the camera, sometimes telling an otherwise long and boring story in fast and exuberant pictures or even presents an insertion in form of a Mini-Anime. It's those little moments that make the film so special and imbue it with a certain vitality. Every little prop seems to have been chosen with care. We are drawn into "The Fabulous Destiny of Momoko" with fascination written all over our face.

Director Tetsuya Nakashima built up a reputation with various TV-Spots and you can tell when watching "Kamikaze Girls - fast cuts, inventive camera angles and you will most likely find every offbeat stratagem there is in movies. The picture is very beautiful and sometimes reminds us of fairy tales like "Alice in Wonderland" because of its colourfulness. However, Nakashima didn't only make use of this style, because he wanted to make his movie look visually unique, but did so to successfully make fun of Japanese consumer culture and Japanese culture in general. Of course this is also apparent when looking at Momoko's Lolita-dresses, that naturally in this form is only to be found in Japan. This continues with the Versace-imitatees and other stuff. Since the two main protagonists are a part of this Pop culture, but in their own way have broken the chains that bind them to it, they always end up in situations that will make you laugh out loud with tears in your eyes. Seldomly you will see a film that is so much about situational comedy. Even the tenth headbutt, that Ichiko gives her friend Momoko every now and then when she feels like it, will still amuse you.

While the plot may seem quite simple, in its core almost a typical Buddy-movie, it's those outstandingly well drawn characters and the confidence with which Nakashima captures the events in his very own way of style, that make this film shine out from the rest of Japanese comedies. Although the movie has some moments when you are not really sure if the director knew where to go with his story exactly, you are always captivated by the events and are in constant pleasent anticipation of what kind of abstruse situation the two girls will fall victim to next.

Kyoko Fukada gives a great performance as Momoko and always manages to charm the viewer. This is not only because of her looks or her way of dressing and behaving, which without a doubt is so cute that you are almost melting away when watching her, but she also manages to pull off the impossible not to get lost in kitsch with her portrayal, so that with ease she can weave a bond to mature audiences as well.
Anna Tsuchiya can win over the viewer with her well done illustration of a punk-like and rebellious Biker-girl. Furthermore, apart from the two main protagonists, whose relationship starts to grow throughout the movie in a genuine and loveable way, the side characters and stories can also keep you interested until the end. Especially the wackiness of some of the characters' behavior results in many good laughters and sometimes lets you think that these characters could have been taken right out of an Anime.

Under the wacky surface "Kamikaze Girls" even has a message as we will find out as the movie progresses. It's not only an ode to friendship, but also a cheer for individuality and the courage to live outside of stereotypical boundaries. Nakashima may have his peculiarities in his narrational approach and sometimes the plot gets lost so much in a confusing mass of funny scenes that only the two female main protagonists seem to bring forward the story, yet this is also what makes this movie so attractive.

With his wacky style and its offbeat humour "Kamikaze Girls" may not appeal to every one (even if this is pretty unlikely), however, you should definetely give it a shot. Visually and artistically the film is almost a milestone in Japanese movie history and yet it also just manages to entertain you. For me this is definitely an insiders' tip. Without a doubt this movie will soon become a cult classic!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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