Movie Talk: All About Lily Chou-Chou

Title: All About Lily Chou-Chou (リリイ・シュシュのすべて)
Director: Shunji Iwai
Screenplay: Shunji Iwai
Starring: Hayato Ichihara, Shûgo Oshinari, Ayumi Itô, Yû Aoi
Released: Oct 2001 (JP), Jul 2002 (US), Aug 2002 (UK)


Ever since I discovered All About Lily Chou-Chou in 2006, it has held a special place in my heart. Along with Takeshi Kitano’s Sonatine, it is one of the first Japanese films I remember watching and – still unlike anything I have seen since – it remains to this day one of my all-time favourites. It is a film rich in detail, substance and beauty; a story of youth culture, escapism and loneliness just as important now as it was fifteen years ago. Rather than present a straightforward review, I wanted to take a moment to write somewhat about the films aesthetics, why it is so important and continually relevant, and why it should be on your radar.

Japanese director Shunji Iwai released his third full-length feature – All About Lily Chou-Chou – in 2001. The film – a rather eerie and melancholic drama about the escapism of a group of children through cyber culture and the fictional pop sensation Lily Chou-Chou – follows Yuichi, a particularly shy and lonesome youth, who becomes entranced by the mysterious pop star. The film charters the increasing solace and comfort Yuichi discovers in Lily’s music – and explores others touched by the enigmatic figure through messages posted on a ‘Lilyphilia’ internet forum – to the backdrop of the harsh realities of the outside world. In many ways, All About Lily Chou-Chou was ahead of its time. Released fresh into the new millennium, it portrayed a generation of youth caught in a seemingly endless adolescence, enthralled by cyber culture and confused with their identity and emotions, isolated in the all-too-big world and seeking escape through electronic communication rather than physical interaction.

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The characters find redemption of sorts in the form of ambiguous pop-sensation Lily Chou-Chou. Her music provides them with an emotional resonance; the characters confide in her songs and revel in the other-worldly feeling her music creates – what they label as the ‘ether’. With music and a fan-base reminiscent of the Icelandic ambient scene (think Sigur Rós, amiina and múm) back here in the real world, the characters empathetically discuss the singer on the ‘Lilyphilia’ forum and listen intently to each other’s stories of self-discovery and what Lily’s music has brought them. But as the characters progress deeper and deeper into the ‘ether’ and engage more and more openly with their online counterparts, thus begins their descent into isolation and withdrawal from reality. Their internet messages are communicated to the viewer through text on the screen, though with only internet handles and vague clues to go off, it’s up to the audience to work out which of the characters are typing what. Very little is explicitly stated in the film; the audience – more so than usual – are mere observers and it is clear Iwai has great respect for the viewers’ intelligence.

All About Lily Chou-Chou is a film that could only be made in this millennium, in the here and now, as it centers around the evolving of communication – or perhaps degrading, depending on how you look at it – in the age of the internet. It captures the disconnectedness of the current youth and, as Empire note; “portrays a generation in a world of electronic communication which promises greater interaction, but instead fosters isolation.” Loneliness and isolation are major themes within the film and the characters are all grounded in their attempts to connect physically with one another. Iwai even presents an underlying barrier between adults and children; in fact, the adult characters take a step back and almost have no place in the story at all. Iwai displays them as very distant and incomprehensible; people, despite social constructs, which the children struggle to look up to or trust in. All About Lily Chou-Chou spares no expense at posing questions, yet it seeks to answer none – Iwai displays the world as anything but simply black and white, as anything but straight forward.

This is emphasised in the narrative, told in a non-linear fashion with the middle first, followed by the beginning and then the end. References to disconnectedness are left, right and center, and for such emotionally compromised characters, the hugely dominant child cast work wonders. The films main characters are Yuichi (Hayato Ichihara) and Hoshino (Shugo Oshinari) – mutual admirer’s of Lily Chou-Chou whose friendship collapses after a fateful holiday – and the films back-drop is largely rural Japan, with much of the middle chapter set in Okinawa; largely secluded and alien areas, again referencing that isolation. The cinematography and tone is very melancholic, with the crew creating some stunningly bleak visuals, often contrasted with the hypnotic beauty of the Japanese countryside. Iwai presents a spellbinding, starkly beautiful and wholly unique visual flair, which has since become one off his trademarks as a filmmaker.

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Another key aspect is the music and the films almost God-like idol, Lily Chou-Chou. The singer herself is rarely glimpsed, but is always portrayed as some near-deity, an ethereal Goddess, absolutely worshipped by her fans, which displays the level of idolisation and the prominence and development of pop culture through technology and social media in the current generation. The music in All About Lily Chou-Chou works as a narrative element and a vessel for the main characters, helping to communicate their thoughts, feelings and desires to the audience. The soundtrack is actually made up of two complete CDs, one being the film score (a stunning collection of melancholic piano compositions written and arranged by Takeshi Kobayashi, along with three wonderful Claude Debussy renditions by actress and pianist Yui Makino) and the other an album by Lily Chou-Chou titled Breathe, which was made specifically for the film and features prominently. The film and its music was actually received so well that it established a career for Japanese singer Salyu, who portrayed Lily Chou-Chou.

All About Lily Chou-Chou is a master class in filmmaking, displaying completely how every element in sync creates one tremendous piece of art. The film just oozes emptiness and desolation, but it is tackled in such a calm and – dare I say it – ethereal way, that it isn’t necessarily depressing so much as it is enlightening. Like the music of Lily Chou-Chou, the film has an other-worldly feel to it, something magical resides there. It isn’t light viewing, but once you wrap yourself around the narrative and delve into the minds of the characters, it’s comforting in a slightly haunting way. Anyone who has ever felt disconnected or apart from society should watch All About Lily Chou-Chou; it is a film about what it is to be human in the 21st Century and quite possibly one of the most important of its generation.

Movie Talk: Warcraft

Title: Warcraft
Director: Duncan Jones
Screenplay: Duncan Jones, Charles Leavitt
Starring: Travis Fimmel, Paula Patton, Ben Foster, Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell
Released: Jun 2016 (US & UK)


I saw Warcraft earlier on and wanted to offer some quick thoughts. I feel obliged to say I’ve never played the Warcraft strategy game series, but my girlfriend has played World of Warcraft for years (and I had a draenei mage at one point), so I am familiar with bits and pieces of the world and the lore.

There will be spoilers below.

First and foremost – as a fan of high fantasy – Warcraft delivers. The world of Azeroth is – thus far – stunning. Stormwind has translated beautifully to the screen and the small glimpses of Dalaran left me eager for more. The Orcs are superbly rendered and appear very life-like and authentic next to their human counterparts, as do the dire wolf and gryphon mounts.

The Fel – depicted as a magical green mist – looks a little typical for the genre, but the visuals honor the source well and the magical elements – spells, conjurations and teleportations – were all visually impressive and felt wholly genuine.

The films world building was one of its strongest aspects and is absolutely key if Warcraft is to become a film franchise. The first installment is a strong one, but it does falter somewhat in the development of its cast and ultimately, I feel the film could have benefited from some more exposition.

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Medivh was a character that felt extremely important yet underutulised. He was essential to the plot, but there were only a couple of hints before the Guardian had succumbed entirely to the Fel. I wish more time was spent showing his corruption and descent into mindlessness. Of all the characters, I felt he should have had a larger role.

I also wish Lothar was given proper time to grieve after losing his son, rather than being spurred into action, and that more time was spent on Durotan’s demise. Durotan was perhaps one of the most appealing and agreeable characters, but his death wasn’t lingered upon a great deal.

I didn’t have any major gripes with the story, but a little extra development and some more exposition would have helped with cohesion and solidified a stronger flow and pace. However, I know that Duncan Jones had to cut just under forty minutes from the film, so here’s hoping an extended version is released at some point in the future that rectifies or at least improves upon any developmental or pacing issues.

I had no problems with the acting (although the human characters were certainly overshadowed by the orcs) and thought the orc cast did a phenomenal job of humanising big green monsters. Furthermore, though the supporting cast need some more time and focus to grow, they mostly all left an impression, which is more than I can say for another recent blockbuster (X-Men: Apocalypse). I also loved the little bits of fan service. Getting glimpses of dwarves, draenei and high elves was brilliant and if the franchise takes off, I can’t wait to eventually see taurens.

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As for the music; Ramin Djawadi is clearly a talented composer and I love his work on Game of Thrones, but it was all rather satisfactory in Warcraft. I couldn’t tell you if Durotan had a theme or if Stormwind had a particular leitmotif. It certainly wasn’t bad – the music is suitably uplifting during passionate dialogues and fittingly dramatic during moments of tension – but it wasn’t entirely memorable or dissimilar to what you may expect. I love the music in World of Warcraft (particularly in Dalaran) and hope the film series is able to develop its own, unique score throughout the sequels.

Lastly, the action was exciting, but the climatic battle was a little by the numbers. I enjoyed the first human vs. orc confrontation in the forest and the Mak’gora between Durotan and Gul’dan the most. The orcs movements and attacks – both with their fists and their humongous weaponry – genuinely felt like they had tremendous force and authenticity behind them.

All in all, Warcraft isn’t a perfect film, but it’s a wonderful start to a franchise that has magnificent potential. It was engaging from title to credits and ended on a great note. I adore the world and with a little polishing and some further melding, the characters will become deeper and all the more engaging. I really hope a sequel is possible and that it isn’t another ten years from announcement to release.

Movie Talk: Creed

Title: Creed
Director: Ryan Coogler
Screenplay: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson
Released: Nov 2015 (US), Jan 2016 (UK)


I saw Creed today and wanted to offer some quick thoughts. As a Rocky fan, I would place it somewhere in the middle. It certainly has the Rocky feel, but after seven films it’s a little by-the-numbers. Sadly, it didn’t challenge the genre and was often quite predictable, but it was wonderful to be back in the company of a Creed.

Jordan and Stallone both do a stellar job and I also loved Tessa Thompson. The cinematography was on point and I was very impressed by the long takes, especially during Creed’s first professional fight. I also loved the soundtrack and was pleased it nodded to some of the older pieces.

I probably enjoyed Creed more than Southpaw, but the Rocky universe is well established by now and despite the son of Creed route a good direction to take the series in, it felt that more could have been done. We have the stubborn central character with the troubled youth, the aging and reluctant trainer, the cocky bad-boy adversary — all the archetypes are there. Maybe they could have made Creed a bit of an asshole who really blamed Rocky for his fathers death; maybe Apollo could have had a daughter instead of a son; maybe it could have focused on the adversary character a little more to give the final fight some weight — after all, the Balboa-Creed relationship was one of the aspects that made the original Rocky and its sequel so compelling.

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Who knows? Perhaps those were ideas at one point, but just didn’t work as well as the final product. I just hoped for something a little different, is all. When I think of something like Hajime no Ippo—which has spanned over 100 episodes—every fight feels different. There’s always something new at stake; something fresh which gave it weight and emotion.

Then again, this is a Rocky film and I have to ask myself what I really expected. The films have always been uplifting, rags-to-riches tales that have built a legacy and spirit they’re obviously going to honor. I hope I’m not coming across as too harsh, as I did enjoy the film and found the performances and cinematography superb, but I guess I went in with the wrong mindset and maybe I’ll appreciate it more given another viewing.

Is there anyone else out there that found the plot of Creed a little lacking? The film has been critically acclaimed and seems to have resonated with audiences worldwide, so maybe I’m missing something.