Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma monogatari, 2004) is based on a bestselling novel by young cult writer Novala Nakashima. The novel most happily is also available in English language editions, & the film adaptation on subtitled dvd.
Momoko (Kyoko Fukada) is a highschool girl fascinated by the French Rococo era. She has found her own fashion statement in frilly faux-Victorian dresses & parasols & is completely devoted to "Lolita fashion" so that she gives the impression of being even younger than her seventeen years, a girl-girly girl.
By sharp contrast, Ichigo (Anna Tschiya) is a member of a grrrls' moped biker gang, the Ponytails. She speaks as though in an antiquated samurai dialect affected by the most pompous of yakuza, a super tomboy.
Though opposites at a glance, really both are rebels who won't conform, & they are drawn together in a reluctant friendship that by the final scene will have revealed the potential of being intense & profound.
"Unicorn" Ryuji is another oddball, a "yanki" style punk & low-level yakuza with an absurd pompadour that sticks out two feet in front of his head. It somehow doesn't seem all that clownish, either, as teens really do go to extremes to find their personal fashions, & Ryuji is as pleasing a ninkyo or chivalrous gambler as can be found in Japanese cinema. That he breaks Ichiko's heart is nothing he set out to do.
I was also extremely fond of Momoko's semi-senile granny (Kirin Kiki) who must have been a tough gal in her youth, as she still has a vintage Honda bike in the shed, & any insect that flies into arm's reach is snatched out of the sky with her karate-quick hands.
And there's a great soundtrack of suprisingly top-notch "yanki punk" Japanese pop bands singing in English.
By the time Kamikaze Girls reaches the climax of open gang war between girl gangs, we're primed & ready to believe the toughest of the tough won't be the biker chicks but Momoko in frilly dress, eager to extend the legend of the Himiko, mythic uniter of girl gangs throughout Japan.
In between the cutesiness & the laugh-out-loud comedy are some surprisingly serious & philosophical passages of teen angst or just the human quest for individuality vs fitting in, for fully bonded love vs total self-reliance, & the loner condition as conscious choice vs social rejection.
Some of the humor is frankly slapstick, but much of it grows out of real human emotion. Although the characters are well written & beautifully played as over-the-top exaggerations of youth culture -- as if by swashbuckling weirdos lost in time -- they are somehow at the same time very real girls. I loved this film & if five stars is the highest rating, it gets six.
The film this has been compared to most is Moon Child (2003) which does for androgynous boys what Kamikaze Girls does for girls. But trying to find anything that comes close to a comparison in western cinema, I thought first of Tank Girl (1995) for characters, though as science fiction it most resembles a grrrl-power version of Mad Max (1979), or A Boy & His Dog (1975) replayed as A Girl & Her Tank.
It's based on a British comic strip by Alan Martin & Jamie Hewlett, & directed by Rachel Talalay, who directed one of the Nightmare on Elmstreet sequels but whose career, alas, took her mostly into episodic television.
Tank Girl is played by Lori Petty, who went after the role with a vengeance. Since Tank Girl is a youth character & Lori was already in her early thirties, the director & producer really weren't going to cast her. But when they discovered Sweet Young Thangs of the sort they were searching for refused to cut off their hair because girly actresses have far more vanity than desire to create great cinematic characters, they finally went for Lori, who well knew she was born to play this role.
She's petite, pretty, rough, gruff, sexy, & when she needs to be, scary. It's totally believable that she can fight & always win. Great support roles by Ice-T unrecognizable but spectacular as one the delightful kangaroo-men called Rippers, Naomi Watts as Jet Girl, Ann Cusack as Sub Girl, Malcolm McDowell amping up his trademark villain typecasting, are great characters who make this much more than a one-woman show. Yet Lori anchors the film as a most amazingly convincing Tank Girl.
Set in a post-apocalyptic future where there's not enough water to sustain society, the remnants of civilization are controlled by an evil mega-corporation called Water & Power. Kangaroos have been genetically altered or recombinated with humans, to be at least as intelligent as the average stoner dude, & in careless revolt against W & P. Tank Girl is a freelance soldier with a juiced up army tank & a chip on her shoulder against the status quo, so of course she's drawn to the cause of the kangaroos.
It's hysterically funny & fun, fun, fun but it's also a fine action adventure piece with wonderfully colorful characters & smart occasionally surreal wisecracking dialogue that makes even the non-action sequences exciting.
The soundtrack is also quite something, not even counting a jaw-dropping song-&-dance number for Cole Porter's "Let's Do It" which manages not at all to clash with the metal punk (watch for Iggy Pop's cameo).
Tank Girl would be great as a double-bill with Kamikaze Girls as both are infused with a sentimental adoration of rebellious tough girls, with real respect for these beauties that is very far from the faux amazon mudwrestling beach babes occasionally encountered in cinema as sorry excuses for action girls.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl