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Imagine that you're colorblind, and the only thing you can see is green.

You are a thirteen-year old boy in the center of an endless rice paddy, your fingers wrapped around a portable CD player. Above you, the sky is white, and within you, the world is gray. Your voice flickers across the screen in Romaji before being transferred to its intended Japanese, and the only sound is the stuttered rhythm of fingers against keys.

Your name is Yuichi, and this is the opening of Shunji Iwai's film, Riri Shushu no subete.

All About Lily Chou Chou (translation) is one of the few films that entirely owns its medium. When a film is shot on DV, it's often a sign that the producer couldn't scrounge up enough money to afford 35mm, but in this case, the digital format is the only thing that can permit the obliterating saturation of scenes like the first.

Prior to Lily Chou Chou, Iwai directed five other films, not including four made-for-television projects that were only released in Japan. In the commentary, he states that the ideas behind Lily Chou Chou were generated on an internet forum, and he seems to consider it somewhat of a collaborative project between himself and unnamed denizens of cyberspace.

The protagonist of the film, a boy named Yuichi Hasumi (played by Hayato Ichihara ) lives with his mother, his stepfather, and his stepbrother. Yuichi is a classical introvert who spends much of his screen time looking sullen and reticent, but his personality scrapes across the screen in his posts to an online forum dedicated to Lily Chou Chou.

As philia, the moderator of the message board, Yuichi exists in a world that travels parallel to the physical and never seems to intersect it. Forumites appear and disappear to profess their love for the Bjork-like singer Lily Chou Chou, often referring to the realm of ether from which she supposedly derives her inspiration.

During the summer between Junior and Senior classes, Yuichi befriends an incredibly intelligent boy named Hoshino. Hoshino explains that most of his intelligence is an illusion, but both Yuichi and the audience are left dubious. In typical acts of rebellion, both Yuichi and Hoshino steal things. While Yuichi ends up with a Lily Chou Chou CD, Hoshino ends up with enough money to pay for a vacation to Okinawa.

This portion, the second act of the film, is shot almost exclusively through a standard Handycam and represents Yuichi and Hoshino's last throes of childhood innocence. The vacation is marked by a number of strange events: Hoshino narrowly avoids being impaled by a fish that throws itself out of water towards light, then, later, he nearly drowns. Before leaving they witness a bloody traffic accident, and when they return to school the following semester, Yuichi observes that all he can see is gray.

Although Hoshino survived his experiences, his childhood was left on the Okinawa shore. At home, he is a brutal manipulator who loves destruction for destruction's sake. His friends have become his minions, and shy Yuichi is washed away in the flood of rage. Hoshino rules the school with an iron fist, blackmailing a fellow student into prostitution and subjecting those who oppose him to violent humiliation. Throughout this, Yuichi's silent, digital voice draws itself across the screen in message board entries that create a futile and desperate sense of helplessness.

If one thing sets All About Lily Chou Chou apart from other Japanese art-house films, it's the astounding colorwork and cinematography of Noburu Shinoda and the editing of Yoshiharu Nakagami. The film's slow pace allows for visual intermissions that are simultaneously too long and too short, and its framing conveys the alienation of the characters with far more power than the dialogue.

Takeshi Kobayashi's soundtrack, a suffocatingly airy blend of Lily Chou Chou and Debussy, further underscores the sense that something very fragile and beautiful is at risk.

Production Information:
  • Japanese Title: Riri Shushu no subete
  • Japanese Release: 2001
  • English Release: 2002
  • Director: Shunji Iwai
  • Written by: Shungi Iwai
  • Original Music by: Takeshi Kobayashi
  • Cinematography by: Noburu Shinoda
  • Film Editing by:Yoshiharu Nakagami
  • Production Design by: Noboru Shinoda
  • Distributed by: Cowboy Pictures
Cast:
  • Yuichi Hasumi: Hayato Ichihara
  • Shusuke Hoshino: Shugo Oshinari
  • Yoko Kuno: Ayumi Ito
  • Tabito Takao: Takao Osawa
  • Shimabukuro: Miwako Ichikawa
  • Izumi Hoshino: Izumo Inamori
  • Shiori Tsuda: Yu Aoi
  • Sumika Kanzaki: Kazusa Matsuda
Facts:
  • All About Lily Chou Chou was the first feature-length movie to be filmed with the 24 Progressive Digital Video Camera.
  • All About Lily Chou Chou was included on Quentin Tarantino's “Off-the-top-of-his-head” best of list.
  • A Lily Chou-Chou song, "Kaifuku Suru Kizu," appeared in Kill Bill: Volume 1 as the Bride views the swords in Sonny Chiba's upstairs room.
Cast and crew names were taken from imbd.com, and I apologize for any given-name/family-name discrepancies.

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