04 December 2011

Have you seen her? Kamikaze Girls and the Lolita Movement

In digging through my academic writing, I came across this review of the film Kamikaze Girls. I hope to be writing more about the Lolita movement, which has been around for sometime, but grew in popularity within the U.S. around 2008.  This increase in popularity can be attributed to the Tokyopop release of a translated version of the Japanese publication Gothic & Lolita BibleBaby, The Stars Shine Bright (which is prominently featured in Kamikaze Girls) can be found at many anime conventions and has a U.S. store at New People World in San Francisco.  As Americans consume elements of this cultural phenomenon, much is lost in translation.

The notion of rebelliously embracing a hyper-sexual version of childlike femininity is traded in for costume play.  The movie, Kamikaze Girls, explores the counter-cultural aspects of the Lolita movement with frank honesty and a warm touch.  Kamikaze Girls is based on the novel Shimotsuma Story by Japanese author Novala Takemoto. Takemoto  gained success in Japan for his witty stories that are centered on the street fashions and culture that are followed by Japanese youth. The story is a satirical analysis of girls from two Japanese subcultures, the Lolita and the Yanki. 

Both subcultures are prevalent among middle class Japanese youth and consume the lives of participants. This divergence from societal norms is similar to the Gothic, Punk, and Emo styles common in the United States. Even though, Lolita and Yanki cultures are on opposite ends of the spectrum, each is representative of an attempt to defy the roles that young Japanese women are expected to fill.  The Lolita culture is comprised of girls whose style of dress and lifestyle emulates a cross between Little Bo Peep and Alice in Wonderland. For these girls, every day is filled with the escapism of Halloween; Lolitas avoid contemporary styles of dress, music, and food. A true follower of the Lolita culture longs for the ornate intricacies of the Rococo Period in France. Girls who participate in the Lolita culture embrace infantilize themselves, as illustrated in the frilly bonnets and stuffed animals that are typical Lolita accessories.

The Yanki or Yankee culture is even more fascinating in that it closely resembles the style of dress and behavior that is typical in American lesbian and transgender culture. Yanki girls are generally members of female motorcycle gangs and wear masculine designer clothing. These young women have the tendency to spit in public and talk coarsely. Yanki culture is an exact opposite of the Lolita style, which makes Kamikaze Girls such an interesting film.

Momoko Ryugaski, played by Kyoko Fukada, is a Lolita girl who lives in the country, but longs for life in the city. She worships the clothing brand Baby, The Stars Shine Bright and only eats food that tastes sweet. Her idealized life is turned upside down when she places an add in the classified section of a popular magazine for black market Versace products, that were once sold by her father in street market stalls. Ichigo Shirayuri, portrayed by Anna Tsuchiya, answers the ad. Ichigo is a stereotypical Yanki, who knowingly purchases the counterfeit Versace items in order to fit in with the rest of the members of her gang. Soon, the two become reluctant friends and set out on various day trips with one another.

As their friendship evolves, each girl learns more about life than she was from her other peers. Momoko, who was accustomed to living a very solitude life, begins to embrace the concept that Ichigo is her friend. Ichigo discovers that you do not have to be part of a collective unit, but can share meaningful friendships with individuals. The director of the film utilizes animation, as well as a diverse color pallet to illustrate the world in which Momoko and Ichigo live. The members of the bike gang, The Ponytails, are portrayed as cartoons, whereas Momoko lives in a candy hued environment.

Although, Kamikaze Girls is a Japanese film, its messages are relevant to young people throughout the world. Momoko loves to be part of the counterculture, but is upset when she is invited to embroider dresses for Baby, the Stars Shine Bright. As part of their design team, she would be forced into maturity and would have to confront responsibility, things that can be avoided in the Lolita culture. Ichigo discovers that she is in love with a man and must place this love over the sense of solidarity she has with her sisterhood of bikers. Both girls are forced to encounter the realities of adulthood and is given a choice to remain part of counterculture or assimilate into Japanese youth society, making Kamikaze Girls a fascinating study of the “Other” in Japan.

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