One of the strangest little buddy films you're ever likely to come across Kamikaze Girls is a syrupy, luridly colored confection shot through with just enough grit, heart and absurdist humor to prevent it from ever descending into cloying, irritating sweetness. By all rights the two utterly bizarre lead characters should be nothing more than cartoonish caricatures but, surprisingly, both finish out the film as fully fleshed out, fully three dimensional human beings and it is the film's ability to find the true heart of all of the bizarre denizens of this strange little world that elevates it out of the world of pretty teen fluff and, potentially, into the world of the cult classic. It is, in short, far far better than any film as self consciously strange as this one has any right to be.
Japanese pop idol Kyoko Fukada stars as Momoko, a quiet, isolated girl who chooses to live her life utterly alone, with as few emotional attachments to her peers – it would be a misnomer to refer to friends, as she has none - or family as is humanly possible. Momoko is also smitten with the fashion and culture of the Rococo period, dressing in lavishly frilly dresses bought at her favorite shop in Tokyo: Baby The Stars Shine Bright. This strange affection for lace and frills would, no doubt, make Momoko stand out anywhere but in her remote rural village in Shimotsuma, a Japanese backwater known for producing cabbage and little else, Momoko is positively freakish.
The other half of the buddy equation is Ichiko, a biker chick who sneers, spits, swears and head butts a blazing path through Momoko's life after arriving on Momoko's doorstep to buy some cheap knock-off Versace clothes made by Momoko's father, a pathetically failed yakuza. With a sneer always twisting her face and her mouth running at a constant, furious pace as she tools about the countryside on her heavily customized scooter – Ichiko not being old enough yet to ride an actual motorcycle – Ichiko is brought to live by Anna Tsuchiya, here filling a role as far away from the shy, demure Go playing high school girl she brought to life in The Taste of Tea.
This being a buddy film you already know how the film goes plot wise. The girls clash, they bond, there is a crisis and the power of their friendship eventually allows them to triumph. As far as plot structure goes it's all pretty standard stuff, nothing that hasn't been done before, but the fun of Kamikaze Girls lies not in the destination but in the route. Kamikaze Girls is a deliriously over the top, every trick in the book fun ride. If there were any available camera tricks the film doesn't use I certainly couldn't tell you what they are. The colors are deliciously over saturated, editing is rapid fire, the film jumps through film stocks and blue screen techniques, there is a pair of spectacular anime sequences, Momoko's fantasy life frequently plays out on screen, and, well, you name it and it's in there. The film plays like nothing so much as a live action anime with all the goofy tricks, bizarre characters and extreme camera angles that implies. But while most attempts at adapting anime fail because they simply lack a convincing human heart Kamikaze Girls rides the fantastic performances of both Tsuchiya – obviously a talent to watch – and Fukada to great effect. Heart this film has o'plenty.
Freshly out on DVD in Hong Kong and soon to arrive on North American shores there's really no reason to miss out on one of the best Japanese films of 2004.