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Kamikaze Girls - Shimotsuma Monogatari (Nakashima Tetsuya 2004)


Kamikaze Girls
[Shimotsuma monogatari]

Genre: Very fun and cool female friendship adventure

review in one breath

Momoko is dainty, enjoys needlepoint and never goes out without a flamboyantly frilly dress. Ichigo is a rough-mouthed girl biker whose two predominant behaviors are spitting and head-butting. This unlikely pair collide and strike up an awkward friendship in the forlorn rural environ of Shimotsuma, Ibaragi. Their unusual adventures easily results in one the best recent films you can see.


This is a remarkably creative and fun film which blends a fast-paced storyline and some highly sophisticated comedic elements. Everything here seems to blend precisely together, from the highly colorful characters to the sheer wackiness of the narrative, resulting is one of the best films I have seen in a long time.

This is the work of director Nakashima Tetsuya whose resume includes only six other films in the past 25 years, the latest of which is coming out later this year. ("Memories of Matsuko"). The character Momoko is played by Kyoko Fukuda and Anna Tsuchiya plays Ichigo. These two are both currently popular rising J-Pop starlettes in Japan and have full-blown singing careers as day jobs. Both have also appeared in several other films, but here they team together for the first time in an unbelievably outlandish tale which undoubtedly brings their coolness quotient up another notch or three.

The film was shown at several festivals in 2004 and walked away with a number of awards including Best Picture. Unlike Moon Child, another recent J-Pop star-fueled tale, Kamikaze Girls does not rely merely on the popularity of its cast. The world created here is of itself fantastically entertaining to the point that it really doesn't matter whether Fukuda and Tsuhiya are pop starlettes or not. For this reason, I think this film will prove quite popular with Western audiences if and when it is released outside Japan.

The tale itself consists of several diverse elements thrown together into a Little Bo-Peep Blender. First, there is Momoko, a quiet and aloof high school student who is thoroughly enamored by the frilly "Lolita" fashion craze. She hates the rural countryside to which her family has moved and is truly bewildered at the entire community of country bumpkins who proudly (!) wear the discount clothing they bought at the local Mega-Mart. The highlight of her life consists of taking the long trip to Tokyo to shop at "Baby, The Stars Shine Bright", her favorite Lolita Boutique. Thus audiences will get more than their fair share of information and insight into the entire Lolita industry, doled out in cutsey-tootsey little pink spoonfuls of baby-doll pudding.

Running alongside that is a remarkably vibrant yakuza/biker culture to which Ichigo and even Momoko's father and grandmother (!) have ties. Ichigo idolizes and strives to mimic Himiko the tough biker chick who took her under her wing. In preparation for Himiko's retirement from the gang, Ichigo hopes to find the legendary Tokyo embroiderer Emma and create a meaningful parting gift. This requires extensive luck at the local pachinko parlor followed by a trek to Tokyo in order to find the legendary Emma. Here too audiences will be highly familiarized with all of the lore oozing from Ichigo's girl gang community. But rather than little pink spoonfuls, we are treated to incredibly bombastic and colorful animated scenes highlighting in graphic detail all the exploits and valor of the biker chicks.

And lastly, there is Shimotsuma, the utterly rural setting for the adventures of Momoko and Ichigo. Due to her father's overzealous success at selling imitation Versache products, Momoko was forced to move to this remote countryside along with he and her grandmother. (Her mother divorced, married her gynecologist, got breast implants, and will soon be appearing in an upcoming beauty contest.) Through Momoko's consistent critique of the almost herd-like mentality of the town's folk, this film actually takes some serious (and seriously funny) jabs at conformity and routine. These jabs are aimed first and foremost at the rural simpletons who will proudly wear anything they could get for a bargain price (and they do actually break out into song over their 980 yen polo shirts!). But this critique actually expands to become the predominant message of the film, namely the need to pursue your individuality rather than live life according to whatever is handed to you. It is this message which effectively ties together the otherwise disparate elements in what amounts to Momoko and Ichigo's journey to self discovery.

The way they get there, however, is hilarious.


Definitely check this one out if you have the opportunity. You won't be disappointed. To my knowledge this is not yet released in Region 1 format.

Update: This is in fact available in a Region one release and should be available through mainstream venues. Enjoy!

Version reviewed: VCD with English subtitles

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
By far the best film I've seen in a very long time. Repeated head-butting amongst friends. And then there's the whole "steel bat lolita" carnage. Oh, how I wish!! One of the most creative and compelling films recently released. This easily earns the rank of my favorite.


Himiko is the legendary biker (spoiler: Ichigo made up). Akimi took Ichigo under her wing. ^^

Saw this movie years ago. Cute movie about friendship. "steel bat lolita carnage", loved that part.

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