Review: Beauty Is A Dangerous Obsession In HELTER SKELTER

Patryk Czekaj, Contributing Writer
Director Ninagawa Mika's sophomore effort offers a strangely nightmarish, bitterly expressive insight into the controversial world of fashion, which plays like a visionary social critique of the modern world's obsession with beauty and the consequences that follow. Ridiculous as it may sound at first, Helter Skelter is a horror-esque tale not for the squeamish that uses luscious, almost sugary imagery and an impressive palette (red being the omnipresent colour) as a camouflage for its many horrifying, yet completely earthly observations. Ninagawa creates a universe that's secluded and distorted, filled with characters that not only act as brainless caricatures, but also behave in such a way that's incomprehensibly appalling. Yet, it's surprisingly easy to watch them in their own environment and observe the way they destroy their own superfluous selves, one step at a time.

Lilico (Sawajiri Erika) is a Japanese beauty goddess, a dream girl, a role model and a perfect woman. Every teenager wants to be her and every man wants to possess her (and many do seeing that Erika's sense of morality is nowhere to be found). Her rise to stardom wouldn't be possible without numerous plastic surgeries supported by the corrupt and emotionless mother (Momoi Kaori). Her 'it-girl' public image is unblemished, but the further the plot interferes with the main character's private life the sooner the viewer gets to know the truth about this truly shallow and tragically confused woman. Without Hata (Terajima Shinobu), who acts as Lilico's manager, private assistant, one-time sex toy, and, most importantly, as her common sense, she wouldn't make it big in the harsh and perverted fashion industry.

Lilico's already tremendous anxieties are exacerbated by marks - side effects of the surgeries - that show up on her skin, the arrival of a new teen sensation (actual Japanese model-idol Mizuhara Kiko) who slowly reaches for the beauty queen's crown, and her heightening self-hatred that so impeccably shows how even a person who looks perfect on the outside can feel small and so unwanted on the inside. In a matter of days Lilico realizes that the life of a superstar she loved to hate is long gone, and there's nothing that could fill the frightening void. Comparing them to the lifestyle of the real-life 'rich and famous' Lilico's regular bouts of doing drugs and having sex with multiple partners seem strangely familiar.

Her own obsession with perfection merges in the storyline with the same obsession of a so-called everyman. This everyman is represented here by a group of teenage girls whose daily routine is based on chatting and checking cell phones for news about their favorite celebrities. When one star burns out it's ridiculously easy to replace her with a new one. Helter Skelter in a most graphic way, through all its deviations and nasty little crimes, searches for transience that nowadays indicates the way we perceive the reality that surrounds us. It's a scary thought, but how many scandals have we heard of in the last year and how many have we already forgotten?

Helter Skelter, while a bit overlong and sometimes too repetitive when presenting Lilico's deteriorating condition as a victim of her own addiction to perfection, is slowly building up to a point with no return, meaning that it shows how the main character, reaping the harvest of her own preposterous decisions, is bound for disaster. That's what unavoidably makes the film a predictable piece, but nevertheless a really enjoyable and good-looking one, where aesthetic pleasure (a showcase of Ninagawa's attachment to visual experiences as a photographer) is as important as the message conveyed by the compelling, if not too grotesque, storyline.
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