Sun. Jun 23rd, 2024


In a specific scene of Shunji Iwai’s All About Lily Chou-Chou, a teacher apologizes profusely to her student’s mother. She is pregnant because she asked her to come to school to see about her naughty son. Such a moment describes confusion in today’s youth and one of the most prominent cases in Japan. Youthful violent extremism confuses a society that prides itself on stability and conformism.

How can a country like Japan be so polite that sudden outbursts of anger reflect a youthful stubbornness that sometimes reaches the level of surrealism? The film depicts rebellious, violent, and isolated teenagers who seek solace in cyberspace. They swore allegiance to the singer-musician Lily. On the other hand, in real life, they are submissive and behave in alarming acts of cruelty.

Hoshino forces his friend Yuichi to commit an embarrassing act; the boys tricked a girl classmate into a warehouse and raped her. They bully, rob, and steal; the girls ostracize their classmates and order violence; other girls must be forced into prostitution. Such violent youth runs as the subject of expeditions at Lily, too explicit for irony. In the first scene, a news program featured the headline a young boy hijacks an expressway bus and becomes the topic of neighbor and family gossip.

Lily Chou-Chou

Lily’s discussants speculated whether the police had caught the culprit. Yuichi’s stepfather argues that they should hang him; a customer at Yuichi’s mother’s hair salon says that kids these days are terrifying. Confusion can’t we explain how this kind of behavior came from someone so young? Interestingly, the film does not just offer and provide an answer. Inadvertently or intentionally, it adds to the confusion in several ways.

One of them is how Iwai shows the world in Lily, acting as a world where it is not only teenagers who behave like that. However, the adults also behave at worst, ignorant, helpless, and at best. Witnessing the ostracism of the class pianist, the teacher succumbs to the persecution by begging the bullies to promise and appear that the pianist will not play any role. The only response was a female teacher towards Kuno being the bully’s target.

Her hair was shaved and heavily attacked, and she was forced to wear a wig after the incident. On the other hand, Yuichi’s mother beats his son for stealing helplessly, cheerfully dyes his hair and ignores his problems even when rushing to care for his crying baby. Why is it that adults generally cannot explain the almost caricatured ignorance of adults alone?

The Side Profile

All About Lily Chou-Chou presents its form by deliberately challenging a non-linear narrative. In the first broadcast, we are not easy to follow with a time jump with no clear markers. The unsatisfying narrative gaps and its formalist aesthetic can be annoying. The green light from the night shots, the stabbing refresh on a computer, the sound of typing from the computer keyboard, and the sudden vacation footage from Yuichi’s handheld camera brings out the fundamental uncertainty.

Therefore, the image always gets sharper and softer back and forth, alternating between personal memories, index recordings, computer screens, and montage glitches a la Neon Genesis Evangelion. In such a flux, the film suddenly changes to a mood piece. Consciously, it seeks to avoid explanation and account, more or less, by analyzing the audience’s confusion than our own.

Ostensibly, the separate curiosity of observing an unknown creature involves a sequence of how the film switches this mode of reflexivity on us. Iwai features Yuichi in a side profile. He stared at something through the shop window with the following shot cutting into a close-up of his face. He got what he wanted, showing him pedaling his bicycle with a large, flat object strapped to him.

Gray World

We also finally see a poster from one of Lily’s albums. In a rare stationary shot that lasts nearly a minute, Yuichi wordlessly admires the poster. He leaned against a pillar as if enjoying a delicacy. The poster is suitable in the foreground, in the center of the shot, and for the audience’s enjoyment. The purpose of taking the frame is not to admire the poster. However, Yuichi personifies himself to the poster and Lily as a temporary renegade from the real world.

We do not need them in the film’s setting, but we see them as the intensity of Yuichi’s devotion. In such a way, emotion replaces confusion. Instead of arousing surprising compassion; we realize that the core of our confusion is high hope in the form of music and Lily. It abounds in the ways she supports her fans. Only Lily can fight Yuichi when he types in Ether about his gray world.

The grayishness only settled after Iwai separated the white and black. In reality, we will always see not only gray from white and black skin. However, it is also the gray of an oyster shell. In its ambiguity and ambivalence, we will find flecks of glitter.

Downward Spiral

Other people control Yuichi’s life and make him feel insignificant. He was in a downward spiral toward suicide. The central tension is whether Yuichi will give up and kill himself or manage to break free from his slump. When we expect Yuichi to stand up for himself and finally become free, he could kill himself. The stakes are high and nothing more than life and death for a teenage boy in the anguish and anxiety of teenage life.

On the other hand, there is a real risk that Yuichi may not make it. All About Lily Chou-Chou tells the story of maturity in a cruel world. Sincerity is lost, and well-intentioned, intelligent, and initially kind-hearted children suddenly become abusive, manipulative adults. They control oppression in an environment where Ether is the only solace for young people. Lily is the rock star from the personification of Ether.

She liberated Yuchi and the company’s minds, transcending and sublimating until they became transparent on the outside. It is a film about seeking protection, safety, devotion, and true love for transcendental beauty. Apart from being at odds with a nihilistic aimless life, these children try to escape their pain. Therefore, the film alludes to the contemporary postmodern internet era, where everyone is connected.

The Sense of Naturalism

However, they feel increasingly disconnected from their everyday lives. Iwai weaves the theme into the film by presenting people in natural ways. We can also recognize them closely, seeing how young people struggle to become adults. However, a person’s sacrifices and tension sometimes kill something in himself. In such a sense, Yuichi wants to have a sense of belonging. To do that, he must be accessible and decide for himself.

Throughout the story, he constantly changes and becomes more like an adult. However, he is also on a downward spiral toward becoming increasingly disconnected. Briefly, he resigned from his existence. At one point, he had lost himself and the ideals he cherished in such a way. Likewise, he just gave up and started doing what Hoshino told him, including crimes. On the surface, Hoshino just wanted control and power.

Deep down, he needs to punish the people he knows for not being whom he wants them to be. He could not understand them because it hurt him so much. Like Yuichi, Hoshino is just as broken and constantly changing throughout the story. The twist is one of the essential narrative arcs of the entire film. However, Hoshino started as a docile, good-natured boy.

Proverbial Turmoil

After his encounter with adulthood and death, he becomes increasingly manipulative and violent. On the other hand, Yuichi unconditionally only wants love. However, he does not know what to do to get it. Inherently human, any of us will automatically be connected with these feelings. Plus, any contemporary teenager growing up in an increasingly virtualized society will understand what Yuichi and company are going through.

The topic of youth is the proverbial turmoil and stormy eye of emotion from All About Lily Chou-Chou. Produced when Japan was experiencing a sharp increase in juvenile crime and suicides, Japan was experiencing an economic bubble burst, proving disastrous for Japan’s young adult and teenage populations. They are now forced to adhere to cultural expectations and appropriateness to historically low employment levels.

In the 1990s, Japan also received many headlines detailing the effects of the recession on the country’s young population. The frequency of juvenile crimes has doubled. Not to mention, reports of assault and bullying in schools have skyrocketed. Growing disillusionment and crime among the country’s youth resulted in many Japanese filmmakers trying to understand this idea of teenage anger through their films in the late 90s and early 2000s.

On the other hand, Iwai wanted to represent this general discontent and anxiety in a more realistic way that would immediately connect with the audience he wanted to portray.

Cruel Presentation

They get involved as they try to find answers in a confusing world they cannot control. In dominating or disruptive cruelty, some of these characters choose to find those answers over their peers. While others try to be silent or passive, they may just be trying to survive. Although each character in the film lives a challenging and complex life resulting in catastrophe, all of them are connected via Ether.

Endlessly, they searched for understanding, acceptance, and comfort at the sight of Lily’s voice. In essence, the characters in this film are all alive; as Yuichi stated is the gray age. The space of reality becomes limited and puts their lives in constant pain and immobility. For some, Lily provides guidance and safety in the darkness. This darkness is also represented by the film’s cruel and disturbing presentation.

However, it manages to become more human, profound, and intimate in its substance by addressing themes around the problems of young people in Japan, who are constantly cornered by family and cultural expectations, social hierarchies, and conformity that can take a toll on those caught in their jaws. It depicts the fragility of youth, how easily young minds can become corrupted, and how a single source of happiness can be enough to sustain hope for a better tomorrow.


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