BFI London Film Festival 2012 – ‘Helter Skelter’ imbued with a unique insight from within the bubble of the rich and famous
Directed by Mika Ninagawa
Written by Kyoko Okazaki & Arisa Kaneko
Starring Erica Sawajiri, Angelababy, Kiko Mizuhara, Kaori Momi, Shinobu Terajima
Kyoko Okazaki’s manga Helter Skelter, published by Shoudensha in 2003 was an award winning satire of those particularly kaleidoscopic and ceramic coated dimensions of contemporary Japanese celebrity culture, alongside its elitist associated fashion businesses and boutiques. When second time director Mika Ninagawa was announced as the maestro of the film adaption the fans must have gone wild, as it’s difficult to imagine a more perfect marriage of clothes horse to glamorous kimono, as Ninagawa is one of the finest fashion photographers in Japan, an oriental mesh of David Bailey and Anne Leibowitz, who would be ideally empowered with her unique position within the goldfish bowl of the industry to luminously ridicule its shortcomings and distorted practices. The project was further enhanced with the casting of Erika Sawajiri in the central role of Ririko, as a real life ‘idol unit’ graduate whose star has recently been in the descendant she was an ideal candidate to portray the fading central star in this delirious and delicious hyper-real satire, defining a world at once a million miles away and ironically very close to the star parades of California or Cannes, a massive hit in its native Japan Helter Skelter is a clever, beautifully photographed film which further heralds Ninagawa as a talent to watch with a paparazzi’s rabid glee.
Lilico (an eerily brutal Sawajiri) is the current goddess of the Tokyo fashion and celebrity scene, an unearthly beautiful angel with a demeaour one part Lady Gaga to two parts adolescent Gloria Swanson, a hermetically sealed entity who is spirited from fashion shoot to product launch in a cloud of choking, constricting cotton-wool. Beneath the facade Lilico is cracking, quite literally falling to pieces due to a disintegrating plastic surgery varnish which has transformed her into some warped porcelain Bride Of Frankenstein, with a retinue of fawning admirers she finds life at the top deeply isolating and lonely, with only her meek personal assistant Michiko (Terajima) serving as the butt of her cruel treatments retainin even the faintest sliver of connection to the world of mere mortals. With a clutch of younger, more perfectly smooth and glowing models snapping at her heels and beginning to encroach upon on her lucrative contracts Lilico turns to desperate measures to preserve her authority, with explosively shattering consequences….
Alongside Antiviral there seems to be backlash on the cult of celebrity reverberating around the corridors of visual power, like Sofia Coppla’s luminary case studies Helter Skelter is imbued with a unique insight from within the bubble of the rich and famous, its ridiculous foibles and egos displaced into an ironically lonely and paranoid existence, where Coppola opted for coolly scored, ennui laced detachment Ninagawa aims for the emotional and physical, like its media surrogates the film is populated with sex of many different flavours, it’s a very carnal and vivid film, with its prismatic colour patterns demonstrating her remarkable visual eye. Mirrors festoon the apartments and work spaces and a labyrinthine aura of isolation and image is invoked, this oriental snapshot Picture Of Dorian Gray of the 21st century, strobed to the flashing gunshots of the photographer’s blinding bulbs.
The film is much too long and could easily endure a trim of twenty or thirty minutes, many points are repeatedly made which don’t necessarily compound early points or advance the plot in any meaningful way, although two hour plus length doesn’t seen to have deterred its native fans for turning out in their droves, as Helter Skelter has proved to be a massive hit in its native Japan, and is opening across other Far Eastern territories over the next few weeks. A flamboyantly energetic, international addition to this year’s London Film Festival.