Genre: Unnervingly Realistic Social Commentary
review in one breath
This film follows one day in the life of high school student Hiromi as she meets with her friends in Shibuya for a shopping spree. Their mundane adventure is brimming, however, with the seedy undertones of contemporary Tokyo's prolific tendency to sexualize and bait high school girls into enjo-kosai, dating for hire. What starts out as an ordinary day with friends will end in irrevocable, life-changing events for Hiromi.
This film's realism is quite unnerving.
Shot in a highly experimental, almost documentary-like cinematic style, director Anno Hideaki takes a very serious and direct look at the impact and potential danger contemporary Japanese society places upon high school aged girls.
There have been a number of similarly themed films involving the recent trend of enjo-kosai or "compensated dating", where young girls receive rather substantial amounts of cash to accompany old men on dates. The 1997 Bounce Ko Gals by director Harada Masato is an excellent example.
But while Love & Pop is also dramatized like these others, its first-person, documentary-style format adds a completely new and remarkable depth to this theme. Though each particular scenario is undoubtedly hypothetical, audiences will be forced to walk away from this film realizing, to an almost gut-wrenching degree, the very real dangers and temptations faced by contemporary Japanese young women. Director Anno's first-person POV (point of view) style makes this much more of an experience than mere display.
Also lending credence to the emotional impact of this film is its remarkably believable cast. Director Anno is most well known, perhaps, for his direction of several of the very popular Evangelion anime series and films (in which he also was the animator). More recently, he has directed the very popular live-action version of Cutie Honey (2004). Here he casts Miwa Asumi as Hiromi through whose eyes we see this story (and whom I was surprised to learn was the lick-happy Rokuro Kubi in Miike's recent Great Youkai War !), the very youthful looking Nakama Yukie as Chieko her close friend, and Asano Tadanobu in the climactic role of Captain E*.
This film follows a single day, July 19, 1997 (Saturday), in the life of Hiromi Yoshii, from her dream prior to waking that morn to the dream following her day's adventure. It is immediately obvious that Hiromi is a "good" girl, wholly integrated with her family, intent on her studies, enjoying her personal hobby of photography and holding healthy friendships with classmates. The day's schedule involves meeting with her closest girlfriends at Shibuya in order to shop for swimsuits to wear during an upcoming trip to the ocean they have all agreed on taking together. [And here males will learn for the FIRST time the unbelievably detailed (!!) thinking employed by girls headed to the beach...]
When Hiromi's taste in style inevitably runs headlong into an amazingly expensive topaz ring, her friends agree to engage in a little impromptu enjo-kosai ("date for hire") in order to raise the amount needed. This results in Hiromi's FIRST experiences with this ever-present means of obtaining money.
It is not the girls' decision to do this which is so remarkable, but rather the sheer availability and diversity of options they are faced with. And herein lies the rather shocking truth conveyed by Anno's film. If I were married and had a daughter, what follows would literally give me only sleepless nights interspersed with horrifying nightmares.
As I said, Hiromi is a good girl, and her intentions and activities are innocent, but when the need for money arises, she, like so MANY others, toys with the idea of "cash for dates" which, she is undoubtedly told, everyone is doing. Unfortunately, its a very steep and terrible decline from there.
There are two layers to this film: its style and its content. As I mentioned above the content is quite powerful due to its sheer realism and window into contemporary Japanese youth culture. And it is this layer which makes this wholly recommendable, if not simply for the warning value.
The second layer is Anno's cinematic style. Suffice it to say that Anno not only has small video cameras which he thoroughly enjoys attaching to moving objects and body parts, he also apparently suffers from ADHD. There is NO doubt that this is a stylistic, experimental film by a director whose entire career involves anime and anime adaptations. And to be honest, easily 75% of his stylistic experimentation works very well (upon hindsight) in producing the narrative/climactic result he intended.
But then there is the other 25% which quickly becomes not only tiring, but also a bit bizarre, as if some deep-seated dysfunction prohibits Anno from allowing a tripod to be used in the film.
I do recommend this film. Not for drama nor for any reason other than its disturbingly realistic depiction of young Tokyo women at risk.
I suspect that you, like I, will find yourself sitting through both the non-eventful and hyperactive portions of this film due to an increasingly riveting concern over the fate of Hiromi (and all like her).
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD with English subtitles. Available via all mainstream venues.
|In many ways, this is nothing BUT a window into (regrettable) contemporary culture.||Though brief, indeed gut-wrenching.||Though containing no explicit sex or nudity, this entire film is permeated with sexual language, situation, perversion and danger.||A true-to-life tale comprised of innocent exploration and the terror which follows.|