Kamikaze Girls – Momoko is not a typical teen. She seems incapable of feeling anything beyond loving the fashion and gender stereotypes of the long past French Rococo era. She dresses in lavish lace dresses, but can’t afford her habit. When she starts to sell her ex-gangster father’s knock off label clothing, she finds a new source of funds from rude punk ‘Yanki’ girl, Ichigo. Consequently unable to shake off Ichigo and her spitting, biker chick ways, Momoko finds herself caught up in the legendary figures of local of biker gangs. But when the opportunity to embroider for her beloved brand, ‘Baby, The Stars Shine Bright’, Momoko may have to choose between a dream job, or saving an unlikely friend.
Kamikaze Girls (2004) – Director: Tetsuya Nakashima
Running Length: 102 mins
Starring: Kyoko Fukada, Ana Tsuchiya, Hiroyuki Miyasako
‘KAMIKAZE GIRLS’ REVIEW
Some films give you a cultural tour of their country of origin by touching on the history, the arts and the emotional nuances indelibly entwined with their way of life. Others assault your senses with an explosion of pop-culture, unique humour, and in-your-face-over-the-top Technicolor. ‘Kamikaze Girls’ (domestically called ‘Shimotsuma Monogatari – Yannki Girl & Lolita Girl’) is firmly in the latter camp. It splashes paint of day-glo colours up the walls – as sluiced enthusiastically by a cast of larger than life characters. Think a child-like Takashi Miike (‘Dead or Alive’). Think the slick and quick style of Edgar Wright (‘Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz’) whilst drunk in Tokyo. Think something absolutely, inarguably, distinctively Japanese.
If ‘Kamikaze Girls’ was purely an exercise in comic book stylism then no doubt the approach would have grated quickly. However, the flair is grounded well by the two leads. Momoko is an outsider and general kook. Ichigo is full of spitting biker chick snarls but has a warm-hearted soul. The movie spends some time getting you to like Momoko (despite herself). And then it throws Ichigo at her with glee so that they can (sometimes literally) butt heads. The disdain Momoko shows towards Ichigo’s outbursts makes for a fun contrast of characters.
As a result, what plot follows is secondary to the pure zest that Fukada and Tsuchiya give to their performances. Aloof against common as dirt. Frills versus motorbikes. Fukada’s ‘ladylike gothic lolita’ look and mannerisms give the film its stereotypical ‘weird Japanese’ quota. But to contrast, Tsuchiya’s heart-on-the-sleeve wide-eyed gullibility fused to her spitting, ragged bundle of attitude provides a huge helping of swagger. The colourful collection of support characters provide good foil for their clashes and the burgeoning friendship between them is, underneath it all, really rather sweet.
It you aren’t a fan of frenetic Japanese pop-culture then probably ‘Kamikaze Girls’ is not for you. This is not a movie sanded down for international distribution. It is as much imbued with the mind-set of the land of the rising sun as you are ever likely to see. But if you like your movies with the sort of quirky and unique personality that you just don’t get anywhere else then ‘Kamikaze Girls’ will delight you endlessly.
IS ‘KAMIKAZE GIRLS’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
‘Kamikaze Girls’ has much content mired in the Japanese sense of humour, which is often less politically correct than western tastes.
In the opening scene, Momoko is riding recklessly fast on a scooter. She is hit by a van on a crossroads and thrown into the air. This is shown stylistically and there is no injury detail. She remains in mid-air and narrates the beginning of the story.
When Momoko is describing her love of the French Rococo period many images are shown on-screen. This includes some traditional paintings which show some scenes of female nudity. This is not graphic but bare breasts are seen in quick shots, as per normal for art of this kind. The montage also has Momoko say that life then was, ‘hedonism and love-making’, accompanied by some quick shots of a shirtless man rolling onto a semi-clothed woman on bed.
When the scene returns to the present day, Momoko is standing in front of a cow in the street. The cow drops dung and Momoko complains that she has gotten ‘sh*t on my shoes’.
As part of the backstory we learn that Momoko’s father was a low-level gangster. It is played for laughs, as her father is ineffective. However, we do see guns, her father chasing someone into an alley and kicking them several times, plus gang leaders threatening to cut off one of his fingers. We see the knife held over his finger and he panics, although nothing happens and this is over quickly.
When, in backstory, Momoko’s parents first meet, her mother staggers out of a bar and projectile vomits (much like a garden hose)! They then face each other and CGI lightning strikes them both. For her mother, the lightning gathers over her heart but for her father it gathers over his crotch.
When Momoko is born the scene is played from her point of view, so we see darkness, an ‘oval’ expand, and then light and the hospital.
Momoko as a small child is watching a TV programme about dead birds. The birds and shown dead on the street. At the same time her father is cursing having received divorce papers. He balls them up and throws them against the back of Momoko’s head (obviously, this bounces off without harm to her).
At first Momoko enjoys spending time with her father more as he is ‘more fun’. This is shown with her sitting on the floor whilst he points his backside towards and her breaks wind in her face. She apparently appreciates this show of affection.
Momoko’s father gets some success selling counterfeit clothing. There is a scene where the legitimate, European, brand owners are sat side by side and shown to be angry at the counterfeits. They growl ‘F**k Jap! Sh*t Jap! Stupid Jap!’ Again, this is played for laughs.
Momoko needs money to buy clothes so she tells her father a series of elaborate lies involving supposedly dying friends or other tragedies. Her father doesn’t seem to particular believe her but sobs with frustration as he gives her money anyway.
When Ichigo is introduces she ‘spits’ a lot as a punctuation to what she says. No saliva is ever seen and Momoko is shocked. Later in the film she chastises her. Ichigo expresses surprise at Momoko and says ‘I shouldn’t judge by appearances’. To which Momoko replies ‘but appearances are everything’.
Momoko enjoys being a fragile woman, much like her beloved Rococo period. She says ‘tough girls who can defend themselves disgust me’. Similarly, she only likes to eat sweet things and says sour and savoury are disgusting. She is shown to gorge, ladylike, on a lot of sweets.
Several times in the film Ichigo attacks Momoko, often when she is ‘losing’ in a discussion. She headbutts Momoko and knocks her to the ground several times, and once runs up behind her and kicks her down. Momoko is never really upset by this. After the first time she is attacked, she holds a bag of ice to her head.
When there are several shots of the style of Ichigo’s bike gang there is a brief shot of a swastika. However there is never any mention of Nazism and the gang never display any prejudicial or discriminatory behaviour.
In flashback, Ichigo is shown to have been a victim of bullying. The class throw things at her and throw water over a bathroom stall. She is downcast but with a fixed grin on her face throughout.
When Ichigo tells the story of Himiko the film switches to animation. This is more violent with ‘sword’ chopping and blood shown. Attacks are shown in silhouette and it is explained that Himiko fought against drug addiction and prostitution. She slashes one person directly down the middle and they part in two. This is quick and shown in shadow from behind.
Unicorn Ryuji defends Momoko and Ichigo when they are accused of cheating in a Pachinko parlour. He grabs the owner by the testicles and says ‘I’ll crush them!’. He releases the man when he backs down.
The film culminates into a fight between rival biker gangs. Several characters are shown fighting and with blood on their face and splatter on clothes but no graphic impacts or injuries are shown.
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
VERDICT – IS ‘KAMIKAZE GIRLS’ FOR KIDS?
In summary, ‘Kamikaze Girls’ is not a ‘children’s’ film. Traditional kid-oriented plot arcs, three Act structure or child-friendly characters are not present. However, it is a loud and proud explosion of noise and colour which will be enjoyable to older children who enjoy something distinctly different. Because ‘Kamikaze Girls’ is a comedy, most scenes in which we detailed potentially unsuitable content aren’t treated as such in the film itself. ‘Kamikaze Girls’ whisks past such content with a tongue in cheek wink at the camera. That said, a combination of bad language, sexual references, and over-the-top violence mean that we would recommend this movie as most appropriate for ages 10 and above.
- Violence: 3/5 (mostly comic, but threats of severed fingers, shown headbutts, and blood spilled in the biker gang punch up)
- Emotional Distress: 2/5 (Ichigo is upset during the bullying flashback)
- Fear Factor: 0/5
- Sexual Content: 3/5 (several references to prostitution and adultery. When Momoko is young she advises her shallow mother to get breast implants and enter beauty pageants)
- Bad Language: 4/5 (constant mild curse words throughout, some moderate, and one strong usage)
- Dialogue: 5/5 (lots of comically threatening language, references to prostitution and threats. During the animated section Himiko threatens ‘i’ll X$%£ you with my “@)^!’. The subtitles are censored in this way).
- Other Notes: Deals with themes of social isolation, gang loyalty, gambling (Pachinko is a quasi-legal form of gambling), rebelling, bullying, fashion obsession, petty crime, that opposites attract, making friends, divorce, and all things Japanese.
Words by Mike Record