All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001) Poster

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Courageous and deeply moving
howard.schumann9 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
Japan is a culture traditionally built on respect, concern for the other person, courtesy, honesty, and discipline. Recently, however, Japanese schools have become increasingly dangerous places with an increase in violent crimes, breakdown of order in classrooms (gakkyuu houkai), bullying and intimidation of weak or delicate students (ijime), and a high suicide rate. The dark side of Japanese culture is brought to life in Shunji Iwai's All About Lily Chou Chou, a disturbing look at the life of a junior high school student who seeks sanctuary from the bullying of his classmates through the music of a pop-icon, singer Lily Chou Chou. Shot on high-definition video, the film opens in a rice field where a sad-eyed young boy stands in the middle of a wide expanse of green. With his headphones on, he clings to his Discman while we hear a soft sensuous voice singing in the background and read the text of Internet messages clicking on the bottom of the screen.

The posters are brought together by their love of Lily who, to her fans, is a voice that comes from "the Ether", carrying the status of an otherworldly goddess. The boy's screen name is Philia but his real name is Yuichi Hasumi (Hayato Ichihara). He is a slender boy of fourteen whose devotion to Lily is an article of faith in his world of loneliness and nihilism. The communications, based on actual web messages, are revealing of the poster's frame of mind. "Imagine being dead", someone writes, "won't that be great?" Someone else writes that once he got to Junior High School his world went gray. Another comments, "...For me, only the Ether is proof I'm alive. But lately my Ether is running out." Yuichi lives with his mother, a hairdresser, her boyfriend and his son. Left on his own most of the time to deal with his peers, his life is a struggle for survival. He is robbed, forced to perform a sexual act in front of local toughs and humiliated by his teacher and mother when he is caught stealing a Lily CD.

In a flashback to their first year at school, fellow student Hoshino (Shugo Oshinari), known on the message boards as Blue Cat, reaches out to Yuichi after being ridiculed in school and both join the Kendo club. When Yuichi spends the night at his house, Hoshino introduces him to Lily. Their friendship shifts, however, after a summer vacation in Okinawa full of strange events in which Hoshino is almost drowned and they witness a serious traffic accident. This fifteen-minute vacation segment, saturated with brilliant color and shot by a jerky hand-held camera, contains the film's most unnerving moments, and we instinctively know that the lives of the vacationers will never be the same.

In the next school year, shaken by his near drowning and the loss of his family's textile factory, Hoshino undergoes a drastic personality change. He assaults the school bully, Inubushi and becomes a bully himself, forcing Yuichi to become involved in bullying others, robbery, and running a prostitution ring involving one of their classmates, Shiori Tsuda (Yu Aoi). Sadly, the adults in the story seem helpless and can only respond in an uncomprehending manner. The only response a teacher has to a girl who had her head shaven was to buy her a wig. Yuichi passively agrees to Hoshino's demands but their friendship becomes increasingly strained when he tells him to follow and watch Shiori, a girl that likes him but cannot express her feelings.

Yuichi is also forced to set up an attack on Kuno (Ayumi Ito), a gifted pianist and a girl he has feelings for but lacks the self-confidence to communicate with. It is exasperating to see Yuichi passively follow Hoshino's demands, but Iwai has crafted his character so that we can all feel the pain of those who lack the power to stand up for themselves. When Lily comes to town for a sold-out concert, Hoshino assaults his dignity one more time. Unable to enter the concert hall, Yuichi watches Lily's image as her videos appear on the Jumbotron outside the theater and his accumulated tension reaches the breaking point.

All About Lily Chou Chou is disjointed and overlong and suffers from some stylistic excesses but it is a courageous film and a deeply moving one, a work that has the courage to confront some aspects of modern-day Japan that you will not read about in the tourist guides. Iwai's breathtaking images together with the poetic music of Debussy capture the adolescent experience in a way that is heartbreakingly real and, although the film's shifting time line may makes the story hard to follow for some, the message comes through with unmistakable clarity. Lily is a film of mood where black is the color and none is the number, but the darkness is redeemed by its appreciation that the solace of art is available to all, even those suffering the most desperate pain.
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Busy Breathing
chaos-rampant7 February 2012
I was perhaps lucky to have seen a Hollywood film a few days prior, Alexander Payne's latest and supposedly also about a spiritual journey of sorts and passing for an 'indie'. The comparison is devastating.

The many times Oscar nominated film: airbrushed beauty mistaken for purity. This little obscurity: lyrical breath and pulse from life.

In 1968, there was a film made in Japan called Nanami: Inferno of First Love, also Japanese New Wave about confused, apprehensive youth feeling the first pulls to join the fray of existence: love, pain, loss, all the adult stuff they used to know as words. The fulcrum of that film unraveled from this notion: if you peel a cabbage you get its core, but if you peel an onion? (this is really worth puzzling over btw, in a Zen way, and the film worth seeking out.)

The answer to that very much pertains here. This is the New New Wave: even more visual episodic movements through edges of life, even more radical dislocations from the ordinary world of narrative.

The story is about teenage high school students: cliques and counter-cliques and much tension and drama inbetween them as they discover love and power. This is woven together with a thread about music, revolving around a band named Lily Chou-Chou that is all the rage among youth. Now and then conversations are enacted in some unspecified blogosphere: this is given to us as disembodied words against a black screen. We presume we'll get to know the people behind the nicknames and identify them as one of several youths whose lives we intimately follow in its petty cockiness and idle pleasure, or even worse that they don't matter at all and this is purely ornamental. It is actually much, much deeper.

Now we're lucky this is Japanese, and even perhaps unconsciously so. Typical for New Wave, the world is distinctly modern and vibrant. It is all about youthful rejection. But as with Oshima and the rest back in the 60's, what these guys perhaps don't know is that French film that seemed so radical and appealing to the Japanese at the time and was presumed to have re-invented cinematic grammar, it was built on precisely what the Japanese had first revolutionized about representation in the 18th and 19th century. The calligraphic eye.

So every rejection of tradition that we find in those films, or this one now, only serves to re-discover what was so vital and groundbreaking about Japanese tradition in the first place.

In other words: if the old Zen Masters were alive now, all of them exceptional poets or landscape painters in their day and with a great sense of humor, they would all be New Wave filmmakers.

This is as Zen as possible and in the most pure sense of the term. Transparent images. Vital emptiness. Calligraphic flows to and from interior heart. Mournful beauty about what it means 'to read the love letters sent by the moon, wind, and snow', to quote an old Buddhist poem. Plum blossoms at the gates of suffering.

So this is where it goes deeper than say, a new Malick film. There are no intricate mechanisms to structure life. That is fine but what this film does is even more difficult to accomplish. Just one lush dynamic sweep of a calligrapher's brush that paints people and worlds as they come into being and vanish again. I have never seen for example a film present death so invisibly, so poetically.

So if you peel a cabbage you get a core, but if you peel an onion?

We may be inclined to answer nothing. The film may seem like it was about nothing, at best tears from a teenager's overly dramatic diary. The form mirrors the diary after all, after Jonas Mekas. A whole segment about a trip to Okinawa is filmed with a cheap camcorder.

Let that settle and then consider the following key scene: a choir of students gets together for a school event to sing a capella a complex piano arrangement, Debussy's Arabesque. They had a perfectly capable piano player to do it but wouldn't let her for petty school rivalries. So once more we may be inclined to think that it was too much hassle for something so simple. Adults would never let things reach that stage. A compromise would be made, the piece would be played on the piano, properly.

Now all through the film we see kids listen to music, everyone seems to have his own portable cd-player for that purpose. Presumably they listen to Lily Chou-Chou, who we're told was heavily inspired by Arabesque. We don't actually listen to her. We never see her or the band, at the big concert we're left outside and marvel at a giant video projection: artificial images in place of the real thing.

But in this one occasion the kids achieve something uniquely sublime: they articulate the music, actually embody it, by learning to be their own instruments and each one each other's.

The entire film is the same effort: to embody inner abstract worlds and their 'ether'. The method is rigorous improvisation.

Something to meditate upon.

(This is one of two best films from the decade in my estimation. Incidentally both were shot on digital, our new format for spontaneous discovery).
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Rewarding and challenging coming of age film
J. Harlan20 September 2002
Warning: Spoilers
A harsh, almost 3 hour coming of age film, All About Lilly Chou Chou takes a number of real happenings in Japan-juvenile rape, violence, degradation, murder and pop idol fixation-and throws them together for effect. It centers on Ichihara, the persecuted protagonist who eventually finds himself atop a group of persecutors. He's in adult situations, but doesn't have adult faculties, and any grown-up that could help him escape the escalating sadomasochism of his friends is too clueless or apathetic to help. Ichihara fixates on Lilly Chou Chou, a Marilyn Manson/the Cure/Nirvana/Tori Amos figure whom he thinks embodies his disillusionment with his unfolding life. When he finds that his best friend/tormentor shares his love of Lilly Chou-Chou, it's too much for him to take.

All About Lilly Chou Chou is embedded in the traditional avant-garde belief that film need not being pleasurable to be beautiful or effective. It's a surprisingly graphic film, in fact, in some ways like Van Trier's the Idiots, Pasolini's Salo, or Wedekind's play Spring Awakenings. All About Lilly Chou Chou is beauty that's sought after. By foregrounding the filmmaking process and complicating the line between pain and pleasure, it forces the audience to be repulsed, enamored, whatever. Presenting the film in traditional cinematic language wouldn't do justice to the depth of the narrative. It's a film for catharsis.

If All About Lilly Chou Chou has a savior, it's art. Ichihara's passion for Lilly is endless, and his only connection with other people is through her. The director is critical of the cyber-community of Chou Chou followers, all disembodied voices, but acknowledges that this is the only way for these kids to understand themselves and communicate their feelings to others. The cinematography follows this love affair with the healing of art. Beautifully shot on DV, moving from the public to the intimate seamlessly, and capturing subtle moments of transcendence, it's a love-letter to filmmaking. And particularly the abilities of digital filmmaking, which is able to capture the processed, intimate, amateurish and technologically-filtered beauty that most First World children are used to.
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a film born from the ether...
evilsmen26 January 2003
"all about lily chou chou" begins with a series of manually keystroked chat-room-style statements that introduce facts and ideas, mostly related to mythical pop-star "lily chou chou." this sort of cinematic introduction sounds similar to many other computer-age-themed films, but amazingly the keystroke dialogue between several anonymous internet fanatics continues past the credits and runs through almost the entire movie. the nicely-scripted, brilliantly executed text acts as the backbone that beautifully holds together a story that is ultimately about many things, including the fragility of relationships and the personas we use based on them, fanatical envy and love contrasted against blind rage and hate, metamorphosis, and technology versus nature.

although executed in an arguably confusing manner, consisting of many non-chronological vignettes, the film ultimately succeeds in depicting a modern-day story involving the relationship between two early-adolescent japanese boys, their journey through life and school, their changing identities, and their fascination with and "connection" to the strangely popular musician, lily chou chou. visually, the filmmaking complements the ideas perfectly. the camera is often puerile and shaky when showing the boys' ventures and conversations. at one point, a vacation sequence is depicted solely through excited and dizzying amateur videography by the boys themselves, humorous close-ups of accompanying girls' bodies included. during the non-video portions of the film, the colors are beautifully rich, with verdant fields and saturated skies.

the abrupt, but fitting pattern between flowing, dreamlike camerawork, shaky camerawork, textual discourse, and the eerily sensual, fictitious lily chou chou tracks provide a momentum that is both refreshing in its originality but effectively discomforting. by the film's closing the style is not so much regretfully confusing as it is fittingly and fully dramatic, as well as both amazing and beautiful. the film is nothing short of art.

lastly, the film did well to keep free of preaching. with much of what goes on in the world today, filmmakers feel social commentary is an added bonus (or even a main goal) to depicting a narrative. this is not so much a problem until the viewer begins to feel manipulated in a propaganda-like fashion. this film is very much based in a realistic society with realistically harsh and shocking issues and occurrences. however, respectfully, this film does a fine job of depicting its characters and events in a manner that allows for the viewer's empathy without pointing direct fingers or offering direct solutions. incidentally, much of the films drama and marvel comes from this quality.
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One of the most breathtaking movies out there...
lilyholic4 June 2004
The one agreeable thing that can be said about Shunji Iwai is that he makes beautiful images. Lily Chou Chou is his most recent release (and let me state, since someone incorrectly wrote it is pronounced "Choo Choo" it is not, it is spoken "Shoo Shoo"), and one of his most coherent films. For some reason this movie seems to puzzle a lot of people... maybe it is the translation from English to Japanese (I watched the movie in Japanese dialog only, so I don't know if they killed it with subtitles or not), but the movie's plot is really not so complicated. If you know a little bit about Japanese life and culture, the emotions of youth, and devotion to an artist then you can watch this movie and understand it. Even for those who were confused by the plot, another one or two viewing should clear up any misunderstandings. Iwai does have some issues with complicating plot stories, or leaving out plot at all. As a writer he is great, but not perfect. As a director of film and photography he is mind blowing. The images that Iwai creates and displays to the audience are the most beautiful presented. Whether or not the story behind this movie shines to you, the images should be enough to blow your mind. Iwai uses re-occurring themes to present lovely contrasts. He also chose a beautiful selection of music to accompany his film, from Debussy to old Okinawan songs to Lily Chou Chou's own. If you pay attention to the gentle subtleties presented in this film, there is no way you can walk away with your life unchanged. I know this film has changed my life, and has become my main source of inspiration.
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One of the most horrifically beautiful movies i have ever seen
tsuchinoko16 May 2006
I had the pleasure of seeing this movie alone on a quiet weekday night. I wasn't prepared for the power of this film, and how much it would hurt me and inspire me when i saw it.

The film moves fluidly, and seems like a work of art more than entertainment. As we watch we are shown a side of Japanese youth not often seen in such an honest light. This world is shocking and scary, yet there is a comfort in seeing it in such an honest way. Much of the film is short with a music video quality to it, but it is the careful, intimate direction that keeps this film grounded as it shifts from situation to situation. I will not tell much about the story, since any spoiling of the plot might weaken the effect of the first viewing. I can say that this is truly a rare achievement in film, and it deserves to be seen.
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Wow… truly mesmerising.
lost-in-limbo31 December 2004
This is a tale about the lows of a group of high school kids that turn to crime and cyberspace obsession of a pop singer named Lily Chou-Chou.

Writer/director Shunji Iwai film is complex, dark and depressing, with a real intense feel of teenage angst, but truly it's a beautiful film to watch. Shunji Iwai gives us disturbing images of youth's harrowing experiences, in which some characters you feel for, but then after a while you might suddenly despise or the opposite.

With visually stunning and fresh cinematography, it felt like I was watching an arty music video clip at times. The scenery in the film is lush and exquisite, from the contrast of the alluring islands and the rich grass fields to the harshness of the city and school.

A distinguished and unique soundtrack surrounds and overwhelms the film; the songs we hear are those from the fictional pop singer Lily Chou-Chou. The music really added to the beauty and mystique of this film.

Hayato Ichihara as Yûichi Hasumi, a troubled kid that is involve in a crime gang and under an alias, runs the fan club website about Lily Chou-Chou, Shûgo Oshinari as Shusuke Hoshino, once a top student and then suddenly changes and becomes a gang leader and Ayumi Ito as the quiet Yôko Kuno, an outstanding piano player but because of that she is bullied. The performances are brilliantly absorbing and there are no hiccups to say off.

Since the Lily Chou-Chou Website is an important part of the film, we don't actually see anyone in front of the computer screen, except for Yuichi. Whenever there were conversations on her fan's Website, the user-name and their comment would pop up on the screen throughout different scenes in the film or on a black background, though some of the conversations have no resemblance to what's actually happening on screen. At first some of the people were hard to work out who was who on the net, but still I found it quite intriguing.

The time line in the story goes from the present to past and back to the present, where we learn in detail about Yuichi and Shusuke. There are a couple of surprises that you don't see coming and the story might have its flaws- but they didn't seem to bother me, as I was simply engrossed with the dense context of the film.

Like I typed before this is an haunting and intense tale about teenage angst, there is a lot of agonizing imagery and confronting situations like violence, depression, rape, suicide, prostitution and bullying. This gives it such a grim and disturbing undertone, so it might alienate certain viewers.

For me it was a breath-taking and visually satisfying experience.

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An Amazing peice of Japanese Film
fujisawa69@yahoo.com4 February 2003
I just watched Lily Chou Chou and I was completely blown away by it. It displayed the struggles of Japanese teens so elegantly. I stayed in Japan for a summer a few years back and attended a high school there. There is a big change going on in Japan's youth today and this is the only time I have seen it portrayed. More films about the real Japan should be made and that's one reason why Iwai is such a good director. He may over do it a little but its what people need to wake up to the struggles in a changing Japan. Americans may think the struggles of being a teen are hard, but Japanese teens have it even harder. Stuck in an extremely difficult academic path without nearly as many choices as we get. That's why escapism through music is so important for them. Its one of their only ways to get out of the social and academic pressures of every day life. The song Glide for me summed up the feeling of the movie. "I wanna be"
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Insolent Salt
tedg1 February 2008
I don't know why I bother with Hollywood when there are so many rich projects like this hiding in corners. The problem of course is finding them. The most significant benefit I get from writing IMDb comments is that readers lead me to them. That happened in this case.

If you are an ordinary viewer , you probably won't like this. Its yet another dip into high school angst, overly long and structurally a bit too cute.

I think you'll have to train yourself to watch films lucidly, but if you do, this will be quite effective. You will fall into it and really be influenced, much more viscerally than say "There Will be Blood," where there is no path for us to enter the world we watch.

The matter of this concerns teen alienation, particularly through how we/they take things that happen and weave them into whatever simple, grand narrative is available — usually through commercial pathways. Its a simple chord to strike, but one we all know, both from when we were that age, and from how we live now, which is only a half degree separated.

You'll encounter death, teen prostitution, rape. Gang dynamics involving intense humiliation. Clueless adults of course. Sexual drives and identity vacuums of course, but subordinated to the more overwhelming urge to be part of a cosmic story. Usually, we ignore this in film, because sex and role are inherently more cinematic. Less true, but easier to show as true.

Its the multiply nested structure that makes it work. The scenes are presented non- linearly. The overriding narrative is not what we see, but a collection of instant messages exchanged among the characters we see. These evoke the images we see, perhaps not as they happened, but as they are recalled. There's an overarching cosmos that these text messages reference, an abstract, perfect world of ethereal dynamics conveyed through a goddess, a girl singer. The slightest nuance from, the smallest bit of news about, the slightest rumor concerning this singer provides ledges for a life, for a whole gaggle of lives bumping up against each other.

In the center of this thing, you have a radical departure. All of a sudden, instead of the camera anchored in the test messages, we have a camera rooted in reality. Its literally footage from video cameras from the core teen boys as they go on an exotic vacation to Okinawa. Naturally, the four spindly 14-15 year olds are guided by four of the most appealing older girls in memory. Its colorful, jerky. Full of life, a real, embodied life that by its appearance makes all the rest of the thing seem incredibly sad in its artificiality.

Someone knew what they were doing when they put this together. Someone deep and true and of the kind we need more of if we are to make it through. Or do I hang my life on commercially available narrative too?


Ted's Evaluation -- 3 of 3: Worth watching.
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sad , long, emotional experience into the teenage years
Davidon802 October 2002
Lilly Chou-Chou is quite a perculiar movie experience, there is no over riding message, there is no moment to reflect, everything that this movie expresses appears in an instance and then is lost again in the great 'ether'. Throughout I felt lost, not merely due to the disjointed narrative but the pacing and overall premise did not register to me as 'a movie'. Trying to find meaning in Lilly Chou-Chou is similar to attempting to find meaning in ambient electronic music, as we watch the movie we are detached, the story, so to speak, unfolds gracefully but the audience can not relate to the characters, but can only attempt to make sense of it all.

Lilly Chou-Chou is in my opinion a great achievement of movie making, interms of acting, editing, sound mixing and visual flair, fans of cinema are treated to something entirely fresh, but there is the overall feeling of dissatisfaction, I wanted more from the story, I wanted to see more of the characters, more of their lives and their interaction with one another. Yet the director withholds much of this from the viewer, choosing to present the characters relationships with one another in small doses, leaving the visuals and sound to complement the rest. And this I feel is one of the dissapointments of this movie, so much is conveyed yet so little is actually on screen, the watching of this movie requires a level of understanding of emotions, and the viewer is called upon to make sense of it all.

This would be the movies strongest point, and one of its weakneses. I urge anyone with a curiosity for this movie to watch it.
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Excellent music, plot, characterization - worth your time!
mail-279022 April 2006
I watched All About Lily Chou-Chou on about the end of my high school life and I must say that I was moved with the entire story and Shunji Iwai's brilliance.

First off, the music was excellent - Salyu (or Lily) has this ethereal voice that haunts me every time the movie comes into mind, strengthening the entire atmosphere of the movie.

It also shows the usual Japanese high school dimension of bullying which is very common, but the movie just shows a more intense depth to it.

What makes the movie tick for me I guess would be that the main character (Yuuichi) although predominantly a shy and quiet boy, he developed through the various circumstances and thus leads to the end (which I will not spoil.) I can say that the pace of the movie is just enough to make you feel the emotions the characters portray given minimalistic dialogue and instead replaced by revolving BBS messages and lush green scenery.

I give it a 10 out of 10 for everything - cinematography, plot, music. A movie that's so superb like this should be watched by everyone.
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Stark and sobering look at Japanese youth culture...
jmaruyama22 April 2008
Warning: Spoilers
When recent footage of Florida teen Victoria Lindsay being attacked by classmates in her home was posted on YouTube, it generated overwhelming public outrage and condemnation. Much debate ensued regarding not only the current state of the youth culture in America but the increasing escalation of teen violence and instances of aggressive bullying particularly "cyber bullying".

Nowhere is that more apparent than in Japan, where cases of "ijime" (bullying) have been extreme and notorious. Every year, there are cases of Japanese teens taking their own lives rather than face the daily persecutions from their classmates and tormentors which involve everything from physical and emotional abuse, extortion of money, public humiliation and harassment, and even death threats via cellphone or computer email.

In recent years schools have tried to take a more aggressive stance on the problem and recent TV J-Doramas, like the powerful "Watashi Tachi No Kyokashou" and "Life" have also attempted to bring awareness to the issue beyond the classroom.

Director Iwai Shunji tackles this sensitive subject in his thought-provoking 2001 film "Lily Chou-Chou No Subete" (All About Lily Chou-Chou). While the title suggests a film detailing the life of the movie's fictional enigmatic and ethereal songstress Lily (singer Salya), the film's actual focus is on childhood friends Shusuke Hoshino and Yuichi Hasumi (portrayed by Oshinari Shugo and Ichihara Hayato) junior high school classmates in the Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture.

Their aimless and mischievous days are spent in the committing of various acts of petty theft, often instigated by Hoshino (they steal some company bonds from a sleeping old man and shoplift some CDs from a bookstore to sell back to a local pawnshop).

It is at this pawnshop that Hasumi encounters a billboard poster publicizing one of the aforementioned singer Lilly Chou-Chou's CD albums. Enamored by the poster, he takes it home with him and quickly discovers the singer's website "Lilyholic", a site devoted to the singer and her eclectic brand of "etheral" music (French Impressionist composer Achille-Claude Debussy and flamboyant Icelandic singer Bjork are named as kindred spirits). Lily's music touches Hasumi in a way that nothing has before and his now hopeless life begins to take some meaning and he develops an almost religious devotion to her music. Yet this happiness soon gives way to a number of hardships. Hasumi is called out by Hoshino and then humiliated and forced to masturbate in public by Hoshio's older friends. He also suffers the trauma of having his beloved Lily CD destroyed by the bullies.

We also come to know more about Hoshino's life. While he is blessed with a relatively happy home life with a pampering young mother (played by the fetching Inamori Izumi), a good reputation at school and an active social life with the school's Kendo club, he still can't seem to find much happiness in life.

Stealing money from an attempted mugging incident, Hoshino decides to go on a trip to Okinawa with Hasumi and other friends in an attempt to find some sort of spiritual awakening. However, after a near drowning incident and witnessing the suicide attempt of a fellow friendly traveler, he becomes a completely different person. Nihilistic and coldly indifferent to life he soon orchestrates a number of cruel and humiliating acts on fellow classmates - he arranges to have honor student and piano protégé Kuno Yoko (Ito Ayumi) raped at his father's abandoned factor and coerces another student, Tsuda Shiori (Aoi Yu) into "enjo kosai" (arranged dating for money).

Hoshino however gets his comeuppance when he cheats Hasumi out of his beloved Lily concert ticket and meets a grim if not tragic end at the hands of his former friend.

"All About Lily Chou-Chou" shares a lot of its dark tone with Larry Clark's controversial "Kids" and similarly themed "Bully" movies. Like those movies, Iwai's film portrays adolescent life as being very unforgiving to some especially those who seem weaker and/or different.

While Iwai's masterful direction, inventive storytelling and intricately complicated script makes the movie an interesting experience, it is the superb performances from the young cast that are indeed the standout.

Oshinari Shugo (Battle Royale II, Aoi Haru) gives a compelling performance as Hoshino. He is certainly a hateful character but he is also a somewhat tragic figure and we can only feel sad to see his character's gradual decline from good natured albeit manipulative tough boy to violent, domineering thug.

Ichihara Hayato's (Niji No Megami, Ju-On 2) performance is also equally multi-faceted. His Hasumi in no atypical "emo" character but rather a tortured soul wanting to find some sort of purpose in life. Lily is his "goddress/muse" and her songs act as his "bible" to understanding and dealing with an uncertain world.

Aoi Yu (Gaichu, Hana & Alice) delivers another great performance as ill-fated Tsuda Shiori. Aoi has a special knack at making her minor roles standout and that is again the case here.

Ito Ayumi's (Swallowtail & Butterfly, Curtain Call) performance as Kuno Yoko is also quite impressive. Ito does admirable work here and it is all the more amazing when one learns that she played all her own piano performances and spent several weeks mastering Debussy's complicated "Arabesque No. 1", one of the song highlights of the film.

Cinematographer Shinoda Noboru's beautiful digital camera work was absolutely breathtaking and added an almost dream-like quality to the story.

"All About Lily..." is sometimes confusing in its non-linear approach to storytelling and in its novel use of BBS chat inserts that help move the narrative but the somber tone of the film along with the cautionary look at bullying, obsession and indifference deliver a stark and powerful message to the viewer.
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Esoteric brilliance
Shazbut11 March 2005
It's always difficult to write a review on a piece of art that speaks to you personally. I'm not sure what I'm about to write yet but it may be worth taking it with a pinch of salt, since I'm unable to get over just how much I love this movie.

Even if it doesn't resonate with you, "All About Lily..." is still clearly a film of a high artistic standard. Iwai has succeeded in creating a beautiful atmosphere but one of extreme coldness and sterility. The poster shot of the bright green rice fields, which practically leap off the screen at you, are stunning to look at but evoke such loneliness. It's no wonder Debussy was used on the soundtrack; few other composers can create such beautiful music that sounds so distant, like you can't touch it. The shots of one of the characters playing his pieces on the piano are made to look almost ethereal. Such music and images, coupled with the use of a digital camera which does bizarre things with light (sometimes the camera will be in a room and it looks like the sun is right outside the window), give the film a hypnotic, surreal quality. This is also added to by the fractured narrative which at times seems to be trying to deliberately make you believe the wrong thing.

The acting is unbelievably naturalistic and at times very brave, especially by 13yr old actor Hayato Ichihara (Yuichi) who's deadpan expressiveness reminds me of Montgomery Clift. Oshinari's (Hoshino) is probably the stand-out performance though. He has more to work with, but even so, it's incredible. So intense and human.

The naturalism coupled with Iwai's interest in seemingly trivial, everyday moments means the film conveys an incredible amount of information even when very little appears to be happening on screen. The clue to a character's motivation can be picked up just by watching what they're doing in the background. Rarely do you see a movie treat the audience so intelligently. Nothing is signposted. Nothing is explained. It's just SHOWN to you and your mind is forced to make sense of it.

Finally, I have never seen a movie treat my generation so sensitively and truthfully. You would never see a movie like this made in the West, except maybe by Ken Loach, but then he'd make it like a documentary. "All About Lily..." is nothing like a documentary. The content is naturalistic but the style is pointedly not. That juxtaposition is another thing that makes it so great.
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It likes a knife through my heart.
daiyuxiaoxiang4 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
It's my first time to watch movies by Shunji Iwai. I'm so deeply moved and hurt by the movie. It is so beautiful and cruel that I think adolescent should not see it. It likes a knife through my heart. Thanks Shunji Iwai, it's a perfect movie that no one can expect to see a few in his life. I have expected to see a warmhearted movie about a lonely boy, but this movie give me far more than that. I'm so attracted by the actress who acted the girl who died. She is just the kind of girl I loved and her tragedy hurt me a lot. The performance of the actors are very good although they are young and lack of experience. And the music is very unique and like it is said in the movie,it's like a religion.
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Here's another teen movie. Just with ..theft, rape, extreme bullying and murder?
hibbz0216 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
All About Lily Chou-Chou is possibly the hardest film to write a review about. Shunji Iwai has made a killer film here, but it's quite emotionally challenging to sit through. But, maybe that's because I'm a big softie at heart. The first film to be filmed with a digital camera? Can it really be that good? Yes, yes it can. Welcome to the new world of film-making.

The film follows Yûichi Hasumi (Hayato Ichihara), a teenager who slowly gets sucked into a local gang of teenagers. However, the heart of the film is about his taste in music. Lily Chou-Chou, his idol, was born exactly after John Lennon was shot dead. Her fans believe she is high on the 'Ether', a substance supposedly everywhere, it holds spiritual value, but there is no scientific evidence to prove it's there. This helps her write the songs she does. Yûichi runs a website for her fans, in the form of a BBS where they can share their love for her.

Confused yet?

While doing that, he's stealing, mugging and pimping for the local gang that he's stuck in. The gang leader is Shusuke Hoshino (Shûgo Oshinari) began as the class geek, but soon after his parents split up, he slowly turns into a psychotic bully. There's also Yôko Kuno (Ayumi Ito), an incredible pianist who is being bullied by a large group of classmates.

It's all bound to get ugly, and it does. But I'll leave the specific details for when you sit down and watch the film. But the film itself doesn't appeal to everyone. The film is incredibly slow, so people watching just for the violence will possibly find this the most difficult film to watch. The best way to explain this film would be that it's just real life inside a DVD. It's like watching someone else's life, so expect some slow-paced action.

But the film is beautiful, perhaps painfully beautiful. The film isn't the usual type, when you watch the film, it's not a film where you have a little cry because the film is sad. This film is distressing. Kunos scene at the warehouse is incredibly hard to watch, it's quite heart breaking. But also beautiful, with the sweetest piano music playing over the top. Painfully beautiful, although the scenes can be quite distressing, but it keeps the beauty all through the film.

As I said, it's possibly the hardest film to write about.

The music in the film is great, Lily Chou-Chous music could be described as a mix between Bjork and Thom Yorke. Her vocals soothe over the troubled scenes.

Overall the film is a distressing look into life as a teenager. There are theories that the film is not about Japanese teenagers at all. Rather, its portrayal of extreme violence, honour and sub-ordinance, cruelty and beauty may be an examination of adult psychology. One of my favourite films of recent years, and sits in the number four spot of my Top Ten. I'd advise you to watch it. It's really very good, but only if you can sit through it.
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Filmmaking at its best
d-dog23 July 2002
This is a film that makes you feel more than it makes you think. Combination of poetic images and magnificent music takes you to a new level of emotion. Iwai used emotional space of each characters as well as physical space very well throughout the entire film, it is hard not to make connection with them. This is what the cinema is all about in my humble opinion. Emotions be felt by images and sound.
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great film, intelligent watch.
gosh_a_mosh2 December 2004
I loved this film, it is very complex but is also very captivating. the complex narrative and set of characters add to the charm of the film. it also makes the film something to think about, even if the actual events within the film are easy to follow. the use of juxtaposition of normal shots and computer screen shots(other times computer writing) is beautiful and adds to the slight mystery within the film. the use of hand held camcorders in the middle of the film compliments the narrative and helps build more atmosphere. it is a great film to watch. it is well shot, has a great cast and leaves the viewer with a sense of satisfied confusion. i personally still do not under stand all of the film, but have thoroughly enjoyed it!i would recommend this to anyone who likes Japanese films, world cinema or intellectual films that carry more substance then the average film.
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The movie that made me cry over and over again...
Fru_is_Insomniac13 February 2005
Warning: Spoilers
"All About Lily Chou-Chou" was a film by Shunji Iwai, a great and inspirational director from Japan. I've seen this film in VCD after I bought it online here in the Philippines, and my first impression on the film was "Sad". The film was full of sadness, anger, bullying and darkness. The concept of the story is close to reality. Actually the youth this days was just like that, bullying each other, killing each other, shop lifting and doing some adult stuffs. **********SPOILERS*********** I really feel sorry for Hoshino, specially when he was bullied by the 3 girls after Judo Class. The nude boy, Inubushi swimming on the pool of mud was a really effective scene. The scene is the beginning of Hoshino's evolution... he evolves into a metal hearted bully. And I will never forget also, the songs of Lily Chou-Chou, Glide, I see you, you see me, and many more. The scene actually who made me cry was, actually the concert scene. The background music when Yuichi was about to stab Hoshino was very sad. The closing credits actually was pretty good too...

I highly recommend this movie to all of you...

10 out of 10 stars.
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Not A Japanese Tourist Brochure
aghaemi1 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
If there ever was a production that fit the definition, look and feel of a cult film then All About Lily Chou-Chou would be it. Filmed in Ashikaga in Tochigi Prefecture this film did well upon release in Japan in 2001, but it was the subsequent export, mystique and international fandom that have kept the ethereal film alive. There are many ways to describe 'Lily Chou-Chou Is Everything' (Riri Shushu No Subete in Japanese) and none of them would point to anything remotely mainstream or Hollywood-esque. It is a feel-bad movie that is nihilistic to the extreme, original and catches one off-guard and, independent of that depiction, there is a reasonable debate (in my mind anyway) as to whether it is good. The story revolves around the fanatics of the mythical artist Lily Chou-Chou whose art, to her fans and members of a website whose chat room message are integral and elucidating, is beyond anything merely terrestrial and is often described as embodying the 'ether.' Her fans live and breathe within the ether firstly because she is that sublime and secondly as an escape mechanism from the toll it takes to be a teenage high school student of fourteen in modern Japan. The students are perpetrators and victims of bullying, oppression, alienation, angst, prostitution, corruption and disregarded by a hopeless cadre of teachers and parents. Banish those images of Japan as an orderly and organized society with a disciplined and respectable school system. To be fair, however, whether anyone - including myself - really 'gets' this film is another matter. It comes across as lifelike, and partly due to the documentary-style camera-work which is most observable in the Okinawa and kendo sequences, but it is deliberately cryptic, open to interpretation and even ends without something as definite as one is expecting - perhaps as a nod to life in modern society in general. Incidentally, the travel to Okinawa, and its aftermath, is the most unrealistic. The money may have been procured through ill-begotten means, but what about the time, opportunity and parental permissions? Would one subsequently change so drastically? As if there was not enough confusion the film incorporates flashbacks. The pompous and simultaneously enlightening All About Lily Chou-Chou is filmed long and like a stream of consciousness and, if nothing else, will make one hate the younger generation and its enablers. I always thought striking imagery, penetrating story lines and intense music make for perfect films - think Blade Runner or Kill Bill or Lost in Translation - and this film has it all. The added element, however, is the extra disturbing content for which there is no preparation. On the flip side, All About Lily Chou-Chou's music is a success and laudable. With the film revolving around a recording artist it might be expected, but the alternative ambiance of Lily, as performed by the as-of-then unknown Salyu, is perfect for the concept of the 'ether' and for the suffocating world in which the anti-heroes live. While we are on the subject the film and Lily were inspired by Chinese singress Faye Wong. Lily/Salyu's Kaifuku No Kizu was included/mumbled in the film Kill Bill to boot. French composer Debussy's work is also prominently featured. Did I learn anything or know anything definitive from this film? Well, datsu or Needlefish is called Shijar in Okinawa. North is 'nishi,' east is 'agari,'south is 'fue' and west is 'iri.' Everything else is open to interpretation... On a good day Japan bewilders most people. All About Lily Chou-Chou out-bewilders the bewilderment.
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the most heartbreaking movie i've ever seen
randompig8 July 2014
Warning: Spoilers
With Debussy's masterpiece and some wonderful music, this film has surpassed the meaning of "movie", it's not just a entertainment anymore, instead, it has taken over a part of my whole life.

If one really appreciates and ponders what this film really represents and the message the director trying to convey, then after watching this film will come a extremely feeling of the blues, which can make you feel down, even make you want to cry.

This masterpiece is definitely worth watching. Every time I try to escape away from the reality, i'll watch this, because somehow, i can find myself through this.
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Painful Trip
ghostsarescared1 October 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I watched Lily Chou-Chou last night and was mesmerized and deeply moved by it. The use of lighting and shadow instantly produce a subject-less nostalgia, sort of a yearning without knowing what one is yearning for. Perhaps these youth yearned for a purpose. Confusion about identity is central to this film, and I felt a very helpless feeling throughout. The music, especially the song 'Kaifuku Suru Kizu' was very haunting. I don't know if it was the notion of 'ethereal music' placed at the beginning meant to trick the viewer into hearing something that isn't there, or if the music really contained an 'otherness'-either way, I felt something I hadn't before when I heard it. The song's been stuck in my head all day. Overall a soul-crushing movie that still remains realistic despite its dreamy feel. I think it accurately portrays the chaos of ideas and meanings and meaninglessness of our modern age colliding with human emotion. 8/10.
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Iwai's films communicate to a jilted youth culture of Japan
mollycase6 August 2002
ALL ABOUT LILY CHOU-CHOU is another film about a fruitless journeys. Though, this plot-less, harrowing, call-for-attention mess is the longest aftertaste I have ever had. Beats any Kubrick film, in which begs me to re-watch it, even if the first time hardly seems to warrant it. But re-watch it for what? Like a Kubrick film, there are no 'humans' here, just gloomy detached children wallowing in an existential void. I feel haunted by this experience, but can't really explain it. And I still think about it after all this time, often yearning for a chance to see it again. Therefore, a film this powerful deserves some attention, but it's likely most will dismiss it immediately and altogether abandon the after-thought process required to appreciate it. Note: I did some research on the director Shunji Iwai, his previous efforts include the acclaimed SWALLOWTAIL AND BUTTERFLY. Turns out that he has a bit of a cult following made up mostly of young film aficionados, whereas the older critics tend to despise his films. Clearly, Iwai's films communicate to a jilted youth culture of Japan, and therefore general Western audiences, young and old alike, inevitably find his films difficult.
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Probably the best film ever and the ultimate slice-of-life movie
blindg5 April 2005
All About Lily Chou-Chou went on the first position of my top 10 soon after the first view, let me tell you why: AALCC is a movie absolutely like nothing else, it's a story that can be perfectly reflected on some of our lives, our youth.

Who has never felt alone and lost in his teen years? Who has never searched for shelter and hope in a particularly music band? Maybe by being influenced by some friends.

Well Shunji Iwai know well this, and he struggled well to create an absolute idol, an hope for his young boys: that's Lily Chou-Chou.

This girl with an unbelievable voice is truly the protagonist of this movie, her music surround every single frame, affecting every single action made by the young guys, she's like a goddess that watches her disciples.

The directing is, as you can expect from Iwai, magnificent: in particular the handy cam work is simply fantastic, you can feel almost to touch the guy's hearts and feel also accomplice for their suffering.

Maybe this is not a movie, maybe it's only a 140 minutes PV, but even is it, I don't care: when you'll hear Lily, you'll never forget her.
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Angels and Monsters
andersonl017 March 2005
At first I chalked it up to cultural difference. "Why do I need to watch a film about bad kids in Japan?" I thought. "I was nothing like that; I can't relate to this at all." But I kept watching. The lush colors, the mesmerizing light, the amazing teenage actors all held me in their stories. Then I remembered, yes, this was an awful time…14 years old; insanely alive and confused…I watched the making-of documentary of the internet-novel-turned-film and understood why All About Lily Chou-Chou had won awards from both the 2002 Berlin and Shanghai International Film Festivals.

Youth is so often shot with a Vaseline-coated lens on screen and in memory. We all think we were "good kids." Only in passing do we acknowledge the power of the ages between 13 and 15 for the immense potential for vitality and cruelty. But director and writer Shunji Iwai has created a film that shows children as they have power to be. The story is centered around Yuichi Hasumi, told through his alias, philia, in his BBS-style chat-room "Lilyphilia," devoted to the fictional musician, Lily Chou-Chou. It is the "ether" of her music that enchants him—the life-force or chi that flows through her and into the world by her voice and electronic stylings. Debussy, Satie, the Beatles, and Björk are all said to have a similar ether. Between the subtle electronic score of Takeshi Kobayashi and the classic piano solos of Claude Debussy, I understood ether immediately, and the escapist power of this music within Yuichi's chaotic, bullied life. At the same time, there was no pity for him, or for any other character. All are complexly expressive: not the toothpaste-ad acting we've come to expect from teen actors in America. Frustration and injustice flowed beneath control and rage. Bitterness and unrequited longing linger under the happiest expressions. Strength and courage grow in spite of public humiliation. Admiration and servility cover deep fear and inadequacy. Don DeLillo, in his novel, White Noise, understood this when he wrote, "It is all there, in full force, charges waves of identity and being. There are no amateurs in the world of children." All are swimming in their growing bodies, in their malleable identities, their secrets, intense feelings, betrayals; all in the context of a junior high school. This is not about culture shock. This is not about cultural difference. All About Lily Chou-Chou rewires our memories, makes us see our 14-year-old selves as we were: shifting and spinning between angel and monstrosity.
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An elusive, elliptical, abstract rumination on the listlessness of youth
ThreeSadTigers12 June 2008
The worst thing to happen to cinema in the late twentieth century was the idea of audience expectations and the feeble classifications of genre. For me, a film should be viewed as a blank page; we go into them with no prior knowledge - other than that which is suggested by the title - and trust the instincts of the filmmaker to present their ideas in an interesting and intelligent manner. Some viewers seem to think that it is the job of the film to work "for them"; to offer them entertainment and appeal to their own personal tastes and wishes. This, however, is wrong. The viewer should work for the film, working out the overall intention of the filmmaker and the characters as well as deciphering what each individual scene means and how it accumulates to create a full, coherent whole. You might think such an approach is somewhat silly, and you're entitled to that; however, to dismiss any film because it didn't work for you personally is juvenile; especially when you consider that a film is made for mass distribution and thus, eventually, find their own audience, rather than forcing themselves on an unsuspecting public.

Yes, this is a somewhat difficult film - in the sense that it has an entirely fractured narrative that plays out in no discernible order - but to dismiss it for this very reason is to accept a cinema without risk or experimentation. However, if you're willing to work a little harder at piecing the whole thing together, then the film will reward; not necessarily in the sense of being the kind of film that will leave you all warm and fuzzy inside, but rather, in the way that it forces us to think about certain ideas expressed through the characters and the atmosphere that is created through the incredibly stylised and hyper-real methods that the director employs. For me it felt like the future of film-making; a bold combination of every great auteur that has ever stepped behind the camera, but with its own voice and its own personality. For example, the opening image of the film - of our central character suspended in time within a vast, green, ocean-like field of waving reeds - is reminiscent of a number of films, from Shindô's Onibaba (1964) to Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev (1969) and Malick's Days of Heaven (1978), but combined with that almost Kieslowski-like use of music and the further hints to Godard presented by the use of on-screen inter-titles, which here reveal elements of character background in a way that is entirely fitting to the uncharacteristic world that the film creates.

Despite these references, the film never feels like an exercise in imitation, with the director advancing on the influence of these particular filmmakers and creating his own world that seems to exist in a heightened state of almost dreamlike self-awareness. The way that the camera often floats above and around the characters - with those huge locations stretching out endlessly around them - seems to suggest the ideas of alienation and disconnection, whilst also presenting the more interesting idea of characters purposely removing themselves from everything superficial, until only the very essential, natural elements remain. For me, it is one of the few films that really pushes the use of low-grade digital video equipment in a way that enhanced the story; putting it on a par with Lars von Trier's The Idiots (1998), Harmony Korine's Julian Donkey Boy (1999) and Takashi Miike's Visitor Q (2001) as a film that uses the natural abstraction of digital footage to further establish the subjective worldview of the characters. The movement of the camera is constantly suggesting the illusion of freedom or the ability to escape that is contrasted brilliantly against the cramped, dimly lit locations and the use of an uninviting sepia tone to suggest further elements of an expressive visual style tied to the feelings of its characters.

It is a film that feels alive with ideas and energy; painting this world of Japanese youth lost and confused as violence and degradation swells all around them. The themes of the film are admittedly bleak, and indeed, the film is certainly an overwhelming and exasperating experience that leaves us breathless and worn. Again, it's partly down to the fantastic visual approach that director Shunji Iwai brings to the film and the way that it complements the thoughts and feelings of the characters and the various obsessions and preoccupations that form the backbone to their world. Understandably for a film that focuses on teenagers the use of music is incredibly important. Here it is as much a character in the film as a tool to tie the scenes together; with the enigmatic persona of Lily casting a massive shadow over the film as she becomes this all encompassing symbol for freedom and expression. The characters talk about music as a life-force and how it comes to represent a kind of ether in which they are helplessly suspended, and in keeping with this notion, the film takes on these elements as well.

People need to stop approaching films with a definite idea of what to expect. There are no rules to film-making. No guidelines and regulations that must be followed in order to get a viewer from point A to point B, nor should there be any attempt on the part of the filmmaker to make concessions for an audience unwilling to take an active role in the way the film should be viewed. A film like this requires a sense of collaboration with the audience to think about the presentation of the narrative and the ideas expressed therein; creating a mood and an atmosphere that is reminiscent of Antonioni in the way that the film seems to just drift along, ambient-like, until that staggering final; at which point we're left with not only an overwhelming train of thought, but with a certain heightened perception of the world that is really quite remarkable.
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