Kamikaze Girls | 下妻物語

Released: May 29th, 2004
Director: Tetsuya NAKASHIMA
Run Time: 102 min

Cast:
Kyôko FUKADA
Anna TSUCHIYA
Nobara TAKEMOTO
Hiroyuki MIYASAKO
Ryoko SHINOHARA
Kirin KIKI

Tags: 2004, Anna Tsuchiya, buddhism, Kyoko Fukada, marriage, role model, shoujo, Tatsuya Nakashima, yakuza

Before Novala Takemoto’s 2002 novel Shimotsuma Story was adapted into a manga in 2005, director Tatsuya Nakashima (of Confessions fame) translated the tale for the big screen in his 2004 film Kamikaze Girls, which takes a contemporary stance and is reflective of Japanese gender roles. Looking at the world of manga for a moment; when examining ladies comics as writing for women in particular, the following two roles are crucial: the first is to present women’s desires when they are no longer girls; and the second is to offer role models to adult women.1 This idea expands across media to the broader world of the shoujo (In Japanese, the term refers specifically to a young woman approximately 7–18 years old) and it is on the second point, where Kamikaze Girls hits its mark. Opposed to the traditional role of the shoujo, the film examines how the concept of the role model interacts with the stereotype of marriage to undermine the idea that being a shoujo deals with a process to marriage: this limitation of ladies’ comics is reflected in the fact that they present marriage as a natural goal for a woman.2 Kamikaze Girls instead reinforces the notion that shoujo may in fact choose role models and consequently a path which breaks from the stereotypical path to womanhood. Nakashima uses style and narrative to push the boundaries of this shoujo stereotype and by the end of the film, breaks it completely.

To begin, the stereotype of the role model presents itself in the relationship between the characters of Ichigo and Akimi. Stylistically, Nakashima emphasizes these roles with sensational flashbacks. Akimi’s first appearance is seen from the eyes of Ichigo which stylistically emphasizes Akimi as a role model figure. A heavy guitar riff is utilized as Akimi makes her entrance as the leader of an all female biker gang. She wears a full white outfit (which should be noted as it will play a role later) as she swings her long black hair around. Her undershirt is a tube-top and emphasizes her cleavage. This is in stark contrast to Ichigo who is wearing pajamas, has pig-tails, and is riding a bike with a basket on the front. Ichigo is set up to look very much like a young girl who has not started on the path to womanhood, or embraced her sexuality. The contrast between the appearance of both characters is important, in that Akimi’s image is supporting the idea of womanhood, and Ichigo is still a young girl. The blocking of the scene adds emphasis to this point with Akimi clearly in a power position compared to Ichigo, who is meek and cowering. Narrative lends additional emphasis to the moment when Akimi tells Ichigo that “women can’t cry in public”, and this reinforces the idea that Ichigo (who is crying) is not yet a woman, but a girl who is actually pre-shoujo. In another flashback that chronicles Ichigo’s life prior to her meeting Akimi, she is again portrayed as a fragile young girl and the idea conveyed is that she has yet to enter the realm of womanhood. The entire scene is representative of the power of the role model. Akimi, who is a shoujo influences Ichigo. And in the moment where they meet, Akimi also puts Ichigo on the path of a shoujo leading towards womanhood. The narrative confirms this bluntly by stating that, “at that moment, Ichigo decided to be as cool as Akimi” and confirms Ichigo’s transition. Where the idea of the shoujo deals with girls who are “little women” or at least in a certain phase of womanhood, Ichigo is still in a phase where she is not yet a shoujo prior to meeting Akimi. In this manner, a role model is instrumental in making Ichigo a shoujo. But perhaps the most interesting revelation is how tightly Akimi’s character fits with shoujo/womanhood stereotypes. Although rebellious in her presence on screen, Akimi is actually on a path to marriage and to the shock of Ichigo, it is revealed that Akimi is in fact pregnant. This aligns Akimi strictly with the traditional role of the shoujo on the road to full womanhood; which consequently aligns Ichigo on the same path. But Nakashima destroys this stereotypical shoujo characterization soon enough.

Later in the film, Ichigo’s role model changes to Momoko; an action which breaks Ichigo’s alignment with Akimi and the path of the traditional shoujo. This is a complete 360 because Momoko is far removed from Akimi and the world of biker gangs. However, Momoko proves to be the shoujo ideal. Fusami Ogi points out that shoujo is a stage before the age of social duty, and in Kamikaze Girls, Momoko has little if any social duty.3 This is stylistically represented throughout the film using images of her lifestyle which is very carefree. Momoko is not employed, relies on her father for financial support, and is infatuation with the “Baby The Stars Shine Bright” clothing line (real by the way) which influences her costuming. Her attire throughout the movie shows her embrace of the shoujo ideal; her “lolita” dresses focus on the child and fantasy aspects of shoujo and steers clear of any matrimonial aspects. Momoko’s character and style undermines the stereotype that a shoujo is on a path to marriage, and instead emphasizes the realm of fantasy, which is additionally supported by the dream sequences that Momoko has throughout the film. At the end of the film the narrative further supports the style when, Momoko rejects the offer to become a designer for “Baby” and says that “she is still a child”.

An so, Ichigo abandons the biker gang and Akimi’s image for Momoko instead. This signals a rejection of the path to womanhood and an embrace of the shoujo ideal, which is Momoko. Nakashima uses style to its symbolic fullest when he shoots a long shot of Momoko standing in the middle of a pack of shoujo who embrace Akimi’s image. The long shot brings prominence to the vast rural landscape and makes it feel as though Momoko’s shoujo power is projecting upon and influencing all of her surroundings. In this final fight scene, Momoko is in a full white dress (going back to Akimi’s all white appearance) that is dirty and splattered with bright red blood; this is representative of the rejection of Akimi and her traditional shoujo ideal. The idea that the shoujo encompasses a process to marriage is undermined in the end when Ichigo makes her choice to ride the streets of shimotsuma alone as opposed to with her previous female biker gang crew. Changing her role model to Momoko, who is incredibly self-reliant despite her appearance, supports the notion of independence and that it is not necessary to be on a path specifically aimed at marriage and stereotypical womanhood to be a shoujo. In this way, Nakashima uses both style and narrative to establish the stereotype of the role model in Kamikaze Girls; but at the same time, the final role model and subsequent embrace of Momoko by Ichigo reveals itself to be the anti-thesis of the shoujo’s stereotypical path to marriage.

Awards:

2004 – Hochi Film Award - Best New Actress (Anna Tsuchiya)
2005 – Awards of the Japanese Academy Won – Newcomer of the Year (Anna Tsuchiya)
2005 – Blue Ribbon Award – Best New Actress (Anna Tsuchiya)
2005 – Japanese Professional Movie Award – Best Director (Tetsuya Nakashima – Tied with Hiroshi Takahashi for Sodom the Killer [2004]); Best Film (Tetsuya Nakashima)
2005 – Kinema Junpo Award – Best New Actress (Anna Tsuchiya)
2005 – Mainichi Film Concours – Best Actress (Kyôko Fukada); Best Art Direction (Towako Kuwashima); Sponichi Grand Prize New Talent Award (Anna Tsuchiya)
2005 – Yokohama Film Festival – Festival Prize Best Actress (Kyôko Fukada); Best Director (Tetsuya Nakashima); Best Film; Best New Talent (Anna Tsuchiya); Best Supporting Actress (Kirin Kiki)

Production Companies:

Amuse Pictures
Hakuhodo DY Media Partners
Hori Production
Ogura Jimusyo Co.
Parco Co. Ltd.
Shogakukan
Toho Company
Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS)
Tokyo FM Broadcasting Co.

Distributors:

Mediatres Estudio (2012) (Spain) (all media)
Toho Company (2004) (worldwide) (all media)
Mediatres Estudio (2012) (Andorra) (all media)
Cipa (2006) (France) (theatrical)
Viz Media (2005) (USA) (theatrical) (subtitled)
Media Cooperation One (MC-One) (2008) (Germany) (DVD)
One Movie (2006) (Italy) (DVD)
Third Window Films (2009) (UK) (DVD)
Viz Pictures (2006) (USA) (DVD)

Special Effects:

Ludens
Omnibus Japan
Studio 4°C
Nakamura Production
Studio Cockpit
Anime Spot
Trace Studio M (digital ink and paint)
Buyu (digital ink and paint)
Sunshine Digital (digital ink and paint)

Technical Specifications:

Camera: Sony CineAlta HDW-F900
Film negative format (mm/video inches): HDCAM
Cinematographic process: Digital Intermediate (2K) (master format); HDCAM (1080p/24) (source format)
Printed film format: 35 mm (spherical) (Fuji Eterna-CP 3513DI)
Color: Color
Aspect ratio: 1.85 : 1

Citation:

1. Fusami Ogi, “Female Subjectivity and Shoujo (Girls) Manga (Japanese Comics): Shoujo in Ladies’ Comics and Young Ladies’ Comics,” Journal of Popular Culture 36 (May 2003): 780–803, accessed June 1, 2012. doi: 10.1111/1540-5931.00045.
2. Ibid., 785.
3. Ibid., 796.