J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Viz Benefit Screening: Kamikaze Girls

This would probably be the Tarantino idea of cute. Momoko Ryugasaki is girly girl who wears frilly dresses and daydreams of the Rococo era. Ichiko Shirayuri a biker, sort of Japan’s answer to Rizzo from Grease. While they will eventually fight side-by-side, they initially have little in common beyond finding their provincial home of Ibaragi stiflingly dull. Unfortunately, the surrounding prefecture has been hard hit by the devastating recent earthquake, making Tetsuya Nakashima’s Kamikaze Girls (trailer here), an appropriate selection for the Viz Theater’s next special benefit screening for Northern Japanese disaster relief this Sunday in San Francisco.

Even Marie Antoinette would find Ryugasaki’s wardrobe impractical. She is a bit of a loner at school, openly contemptuous of unsophisticated classmates. To pay for the over-the-top creations of “Baby, the Stars Shine Bright,” her favorite Tokyo boutique, she starts selling some of her father’s stash of highly dubious Versace knock-offs, which brings her into contact with Shirayuri. Temperamentally, they are like oil and water, but they are both outsiders with their own idiosyncrasies. Still, it thoroughly baffles Ryugasaki why Shirayuri constantly wants to hang out.

While Kamikaze might sound like a blatant appeal to a wide range of fetishism (biker girls, school girls, etc.), it is all rather safe PG-CW channel material. Nakashima captures the spirit of the light novel and manga source material though, using a lot of visual razzle dazzle, VFX, and even some anime. Frankly, Ryugasaki’s preciousness and her friend’s petulance both get a bit tiresome, but the climatic rumble pays-off big time.

Granted, Ryugasaki is often deliberately unlikable, but Kyôko Fukada shows a flair for her snobby eccentricities. However, Mayuko Fukuda nearly steals the picture with her perfect deadpan delivery as young Ryugasaki in Kamikaze’s Annie Hall-esque flashbacks. Conversely, Anna Tsuchiya could have conceivably dialed it down a bit as Shirayuri without undermining the odd couple comedy.

Nakashima employs the basic shotgun approach, but Kamikaze’s breakneck energy pulls viewers through his misses as well as his hits. He gets a big assist from cinematographer Shoici Ato, who stylishly conveys all the temporal shifts, fantasies, and flights of reverie. Yet, perhaps Yojiro Nishimura’s animation provides the film’s coolest sequences.

Essentially, Kamikaze puts the The Powerpuff Girls, 90210, and Kill Bill into a live action blender, while somehow maintaining a light and sweet tone. Even though the treacly soundtrack could put an otherwise healthy person into a diabetic coma, the film has enough edgy lunacy and attitude to keep fanboys focused. It is definitely recommended to support a worthy cause. Viz is only suggesting a $10 donation for their Sunday (10/29) screening, with all proceeds going to the JCCCNC’s Northern Japanese Relief Fund. Donations can also be made directly here, as well as to the Japan Society’s relief efforts here.

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