Kamikaze Girls

Format: Cinema

Part of season: ‘A Life More Ordinary – A Portrait of Contemporary Japanese People on Film’

Release date: 9-17 February 2008

Venues: ICA, London, then on tour at the Watershed Media Centre (Bristol), Queens Film Theatre (Belfast), Filmhouse (Edinburgh) and Showroom (Sheffield)

Distributor: Japan Foundation

Director: Tetsuya Nakashima

Based on: manga by Novala Takemoto

Original title: Shimotsuma Monogatari

Cast: Anna Tsuchiya, Kyôko Fukada

Japan 2004

103 mins

Welcome to the weird and colourful world of Momoko (Kyôko Fukada) – a dedicated follower of fashion – eighteenth-century-inspired ‘Rococo’ Lolita fashion, that is! Dressed in frilly period attire and stuck in a backwater called Shimotsuma, Momoko helps her father sell his ‘Versach’ bootleg merchandise on the streets to pay the bills. Unimpressed by the tracksuits and cheap supermarket threads that prevail in her hometown, she dreams of working for Baby, The Stars Shine Bright, Tokyo’s bona fide fashion house for Lolita outfits, led by í¼ber-designer Akinori Isobe.

One sunny day, a black-clad biker girl called Ichigo (Anna Tsuchiya) comes to Momoko’s house to buy some fake designer gear after arranging the visit over the Internet. When she realises that Momoko is not the smart cookie she imagined but a baby doll draped in Marie-Antoinette lace, Ichigo’s curiosity quickly turns to contempt. Being a foul-mouthed rebel ‘Yanki’ and member of an all-girl speed-tribe, as Japan’s Kamikaze biker gangs are referred to, Ichigo has no patience for Momoko’s fussy girliness. However, as they visit Pachinko parlours (slot machine dives) and cocktail bars together, the two girls learn to admire each other’s own brand of gutsy non-conformism and gradually form an unlikely friendship. Indeed, opposites attract, and what ensues is an often comical and surreal road trip that brings each girl a little closer to fulfilling her dream…

Director Tetsuya Nakashima has whipped up an exquisitely shot and wonderfully quirky film that is highly enjoyable even if you are not acquainted with Japan’s complex youth subculture. Based on the graphic novel Shimotsuma Story by cult manga creator Novala Takemoto, the rather misleadingly titled Kamikaze Girls convinces through strong performances and a captivating plot.

Thanks to the ICA’s ‘A Life More Ordinary – A Portrait of Contemporary Japanese People on Film’ season, this 2004 movie is finally given a much deserved release in a London cinema.

Claudia Andrei