The Brick Lane Japan Film Festival: Kamikaze Girls, directed by Tetsuya Nakashima

Kamikaze Girls 
Directed by Tetsuya Nakashima
Brick Lane Film Festival

Review by Annabelle Sami

This film festival of independent Japanese cinema, run from a small gallery space on Brick Lane, is a great example of how a group of friends can get together and produce a vibrant, successful cultural event. The initial buzz was generated solely through Facebook, the event’s page garnering over 12,000 potential attendees. Tickets for the three day event sold out within days, with extra screenings being added to meet demand – all of which is impressive for an independently organised event making its debut in London’s already saturated events calendar.

The film that I attended was one of the additional screenings added for 10.30am on a Saturday morning. Although an early start for a film, it certainly didn’t put off the room full of people eager to see one of the independent films being shown in this varied festival. The venue for the festival, 5th Base Gallery on Heneage Street, had been decorated with fairy lights, and seating comprised an array of cosy blow-up beds with a few rows of chairs at the back. This simple set up with a projector used to screen the film gave the viewing experience an intimate collegiate atmosphere.

I selected the film I went to see – Kamikaze Girls, directed by Tetsuya Nakashima – at random, with no prior knowledge of the director. The film has been shown a handful of times in the UK at various independently-organised screenings. Originally a ‘light novel’ written by Novala Takemoto, the film adaptation retains the simple plot – expertly delivered with brilliant performances from Kyoko Fukada and Anna Tsuchiya – in which two teenage girls from very different teen subcultures meet and strike up an unlikely friendship.

Even people who know little about Japan are aware that the country boasts a startling range of youth subcultures, with vibrant fashion and lifestyle trends flourishing in areas like Harajuku in downtown Tokyo. Kamikaze Girls takes two contrasting subcultures – the Lolita and Yanki girls – and situates them to great effect in a rural small-town context.

Lolita girls, especially ‘sweet Lolitas’, wear dolly styled clothing influenced by Victorian fashion while Yankis belong to high-school all-girl motorcycle gangs, whose signifiers include chain smoking, heavily customised matching uniforms and general delinquency. Despite these stereotypes, both girls show great complexity of character. The Lolita Momoko (Fukada) and her sweet dolly aesthetic is undercut by her strange sense of humour and seemingly emotionless persona, while Ichiko (Tsuchiya), a Yanki girl, shows a depth of feeling and tenderness in juxtaposition to the delinquent youth model. But, most importantly, the girls are brave, adventurous and badass – as the overblown motorcycle gang fight scene at the end amply demonstrates. Quite often when it comes to portraying the lives of teenage girls on film, characters tend towards the vapid and one-dimensional, but this is not the case in Kamikaze Girls. These girls constantly challenge our perceptions and this makes the film so much more than just an adaptation of a ‘light novel.’

The film’s comic book-style warped reality provides a fast paced and entertaining viewing experience and a great backdrop for Fukada and Tsuchiya’s comedic performances. A real triumph of independent film, it’s easy to see how Kamikaze Girls won Best Film at the 2005 Yokohama Film Festival.

Kamikaze Girls by Tetsuya Nakashima is available on DVD, published by Third Window Films.

Below is an interview conducted with Kentaro Hayashi, the organiser of Brick Lane Film Festival, on how and why he decided to hold the festival.

AS: Who organised this event?
KH: I organised the event myself with a lot of help from my friend and right-hand-man Shin Osera! I then enlisted the help of many of my Japanese friends here in London to help out on the day. Later on we were joined by Christopher O’Keeffe, a film journalist (TwitchFilm, Tokyo Weekender) who lived in Japan for seven years and just recently moved to London. He will be joining us to organise future events.

AS: Why did you decide to organise this event?
KH: I think that many people in England think about anime and samurai when it comes to Japanese film and culture. We know from the survey we did at the festival that Studio Ghibli and Battle Royale are very popular! Our aim was to show a more diverse view of Japan through new, independent cinema. I want to introduce many of the movies that I love, from new and unknown filmmakers, to London.

AS: Will you be holding any events in the future?
KH: Yes! We can’t wait to do another event and make it even bigger and better than the last. The plan is to do something in March, we’re not ready to make any announcements yet but please follow the Facebook page, Brick Lane Japan Film Festival, to keep up to date with what’s going on. We were so happy with the response from the people who visited us last time, everyone seemed so happy to be able to watch the films we put together. Our aim is to bring more exciting new Japanese cinema to London.

To keep up to date with future events either follow their Facebook page or have a look at their website.

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