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All About Lily Chou-Chou (Iwai Shunji 2001)


All About Lily Chou-Chou
[Lili Chu Chu no Subete]

Genre: Youth Angst Amid Moral Chaos

review in one breath

This rather profound film follows a class of Japanese students as they transition from Junior High to Senior High and from optimistic childhood into the murky and tragic ambiguities of adolescence. The clarity and depth with which All About Lily Chou Chou plumbs the moral vacuum into which these kids fall is wholly mesmerizing and memorable. Eerily paralleling the narrative is the fan-based internet bulletin board to which students and others post using pseudonyms, allowing them to anonymously express their core intuitions and angst. Both beautiful and disturbing, this film is highly recommendable.


Teen angst and its often violent and desperate fallout is a common theme in contemporary Japanese film. And I have seen many such films. But in All About Lily Chou Chou, director Iwai Shunji brings something completely unique to his exploration of the topic. By allowing the audience to track exchanges in a vibrant and ongoing, albeit anonymous internet chat room, a quiet and still depth is added to the visceral and non-verbal chaos of these youths lives.

This proves to be far more than a narrative gimmick, as director Iwai's ability to effectively capture otherwise imperceptibly subtle nuances of peer pressures and individual crises is nigh incomparable. At 146 minutes, Iwai takes his time to invite audiences into even the most mundane experiences of our characters, allowing us to see and experience for ourselves at the same pace and measure as the characters themselves. This time spent on nurturing personal familiarity of the characters by the audience is indeed well-spent once mundane gives way to morally consequential scenarios which, in classic Japanese fashion, can be gut-wrenchingly raw yet simultaneously brimming with implicit humanitarian lessons.


The story predominantly follows a small pack of junior high friends. For the most part they are good kids, doing well in school and not displaying any overt rebelliousness, although they can nevertheless be mischievous when they wish. We meet them during their final year of junior high when perhaps their social and personal stability is at its highest.

Once in high school, however, all such stability disappears as they are forced to wholly redefine themselves against the backdrop of the new hierarchies and dynamics they find themselves in. And it is at this point that the prior innocent juggling of "good kid" with "mischievous kid" slowly fails, as each is increasingly (and irrevocably) forced into one of these two trajectories.

Due to the bold and intimidating path chosen by one of the pack, the others soon find themselves enmeshed in truly sad and brutal situations which lay total waste to even the most innocent of victims.

Although unbeknownst to them, their anonymous participation in a "Lily Chou Chou" (pop star) fan-based chat room not only allows a window into their deepest moral struggles, but will eventually bring quietly held ideals into the forefront of their struggle for self-identity and redemption.


This is truly a powerful and unique film which I thoroughly recommend you check out. It is widely distributed in Region 1 subtitled formats via mainstream outlets such as Blockbuster and Netflix.

The Region 1 DVDs carry a "Youth Restricted" (MPAA) rating. In my estimation this is a mistake, since the film contains neither nudity nor any graphic violence. It does, however, discuss and imply such things as rape and suicide, and then thoroughly depicts the social and conscionable aftermath upon victims, perpetrators and observers. In this way, while depicting no nudity or graphic violence, it remains an unflinching and emotionally compelling portrayal of the life-altering decisions and situations these youth find themselves in.

In the end, however, this narrative emerges from a two hour-long spiraling abyss into a wholly satisfying and truly thought-provoking conclusion.

Be sure to check this out.

Version Reviewed: Region 1 DVD (available at NetFlix, Blockbuster, etc)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
This is a truly unique and memorable approach to the youth angst genre. No graphic depictions of violence, though a desperate chase scene culminating in an implied rape. No sex or nudity depicted. Eery use of parallel chat room dialogue and an undeniably excellent exploration and depiction of youth angst.

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