Farewell, Legendary Idiot

Our story begins, unexpectedly, in the 18th Century. For it is here that our hero Momoko (Kyoko Fukada) finds her inspiration in Tetsuya Nakashima’s Kamikaze Girls (apparently another victim of renaming a property for Western audiences as the Japanese title Shimotsuma Monogatari means simply “Shimotsuma Story” after the town where the main character lives). Baroque not being nearly excessive enough, Momoko is drawn to Rococo as her model and teacher, associating it with a life free from attachment, big on pleasure, and heavy on ornamentation. Decked out in a frilly petticoat and bonnet with a matching umbrella perched in the crook of her arm, she defiantly sets out for a languid stroll in the countryside, only to have it ruined by the unavoidable reality of her provincial town: the cows and rice paddies, the locals clad in ready-to-wear garments picked up at Jusco, the local mega-mart. Her present circumstances aren’t a marked improvement from the town where she was born, where she tells us, “you were born in a track suit, you died in a track suit. It was track suit country.”
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Although she finds some solace in trips to boutiques in Tokyo, her ability to dissolve into her self-willed reality is thwarted still further when she finds herself running out of cash to dole out for the expensive clothes. Deciding to unload some of her father’s knock off merchandise that got him in trouble with the mob prompting their exile in Shimotsuma, she comes into contact with Ichiko (Anna Tsuchiya), a biker girl whose world is so foreign to Momoko, she interprets her speech as floridly Shakespearian. Ichiko is everything Momoko is not: unrefined, with penciled-on eyebrows, spitting on the ground at every occasion, entranced by the “Universal Studios/Versace” dual-brand knock-off jackets Momoko is trying to sell. Much to her chagrin, Ichiko latches onto her, proving impervious to Momoko’s efforts to extricate herself from the unwelcome attachment. At one point she attempts to substitute a head of cabbage for her friendship. “Farewell, Legendary Idiot!” she intones as she makes a break for it. Ichiko is not to be shaken off so easily: she cuts off Momoko’s escape, and pummels her way back into her bad graces.
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Sounds like your usual odd couple match-up, you say? Well yes, but the proceedings are elevated by the clever storytelling and humor. And as the story continues, the viewer begins to feel just how cold-blooded are Momoko’s observations, despite the fact that they had you in stitches earlier in the film. Ichiko’s gruffness and lack of restraint are a welcome respite. Helping move things along is an insanely talented cast, every bit player threatening to steal the film. Sadao Abe, who was so good in Maiko haaaan!!!, gives a great turn as “Unicorn” Ryuji, an outrageous, slightly sleazy gang member with a fittingly outrageous hair-do. Packed with visual gags, Kamikaze Girls is a living cartoon in the vein of Kung Fu Hustle that reminds that a familiar tale can be enlivened considerably by the skill with which it’s told.
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