Wednesday, July 05, 2006

New Film: Linda Linda Linda & TCM's The Edge of Outside

Nobuhiro Yamashita's Linda Linda Linda may be the first major post-1990s film by an under-30 Japanese filmmaker; at the very least it is the first to screen in the United States. Unfortunately for most, it still lacks American distribution, making it the sole purview, for now, of those lucky few within range of a festival intelligent enough to screen this thoroughly-winning work of pop film art (thank you to Grady Hendrix and the New York Asian Film Festival here in NYC). Certainly there are only a handful of films from the past year, at best, that can approach the visceral appeal of Yamashita's high school musical comedy.

Linda Linda Linda takes its name from Japanese post-punk outfit The Blue Hearts' signature single of the same name. In Yamashita's film, four high school girls prepare their version of the song for a high school festival (re: talent show) following a less than acrimonious split between the band's guitarist and one of its earlier members. Appropriately, Yamashita withholds the ultimate causes of the rift -- to the measure that causality isn't always clearest when one is considering teenage psychology -- thereby establishing a tone which might be best described as observational. In fact, his camera on occasion remains at a considerable distance from the girls, characteristically utilizing long takes that together connote a refusal to intervene in the film's subject matter.

Rather, Linda Linda Linda saves its manipulations for its spectators. Particularly, beyond the film's exceptional plying of audience involvement in the fate of the girls' performance, and to a lesser extent in their PG-rated love lives, Yamashita targets the film's adult viewership by reflexively counting their visceral stake in the film as confirmation of the picture's opening thesis: that one doesn't lose that aspect of personality which makes one a kid (or a teenager) when one grows up. In the film's concluding scene, Yamashita, in a bravura display of artistry, shows a series of locations at the school that had heretofore served as the film's principle location (a sort of Fast Times at Ridgemont High meets L'Eclisse ending, if you will). These locales, depicted in a sudden rain, along with the performance of a second Blue Hearts song, effectively communicate a once populated space that has since been deserted -- a visual description of all of our long past high school years'. Indeed, Linda Linda Linda draws us into this world, accordingly proving its thesis in the most lyrical of fashions.

Having said this, the appeal of Yamashita's film depends primarily upon its successful emulation of the pop music formula. Like the titular song, the film's payoff isn't immediate: in the case of the former, a lower tempo verse precedes the screeching chorus of "Linda Linda, Linda Linda Linda," whereas in the case of the film, Yamashita sustains a rather deliberate pace prior to the concluding festival performance. It's as if Yamashita manages to achieve the same effect in his filmmaking that The Blue Hearts succeeded in producing in the delayed gratification of their songwriting. (My companion in viewing the film, Lisa Broad, observed that the film is constructed in a popular manner which could be said to be opposed to avant pop, where expectations are expressly thwarted; here, the filmmakers give the viewers what they want, coming in for what amounts to be one epic, final repetition of the chorus -- the performance -- at the film's end. Or, to be a bit more profane, Linda Linda Linda's structure, like that of all rock-and-roll music, acts as a metaphor for the sexual act.)

However, Linda Linda Linda's merits are far from confined to the successful climax of the film's denouement. First, there is the film's pitch-perfect capture of life in high school, which in many ways seems to be more similar to its counterpart experience in the US than it is different. For instance, there is the film's knowing reproduction of the single-minded pursuit of extra-curricular's that in many ways over-shadows a majority of high schooler's experience of that time; there is the accompanying lack of sleep -- or sleep during school time -- that results from this added time strain; there are not only the cliched cliques, but also the members of cliques who have been orphaned in their final years, following the graduation of their fellow group members; etc.

And then there are the characters created by Yamashita and the film's fellow screenwriters, and brought to vivid life by the film's fine young Japanese and Korean actresses. Du-na Bae, who plays Korean exchange student Song, and who happens to be impulsively recruited to serve as the outfit's lead singer in spite of her less-than-expert handle on the Japanese language, particularly contributes to the film's immense appeal through a performance that seems to convey the physical nature of speech, and the locus of the struggle of assimulation in attempting to find and articulate the right words at the right time, whether in singing "Linda Linda Linda's" indelible verses or in communicating with her band mates or would-be suitors. Suffice it to say that in addition to everything else, Linda Linda Linda is a very funny film, which in no small part is to the credit of Bae's wonderful performance.

In closing, let me add that while Linda Linda Linda currently lacks distribution, there is a good possibility that this won't continue to be the case: if you've ever looked at my bio, you'll see that I work for a film distribution company, which just happens to release films like this one. Hopefully, my unnamed employers or some other like-minded independent/art house distributor will recognize the film's appeal and will, minimally, release it direct-to-video. (Let me just say that I've done my part at my place of employment.) Until that time, however, let me refer you here, where my recently-hitched pal Mike Lyon has an exceptional list of Asian cult websites where you might perhaps find Linda Linda Linda.

In the realm of the eminently seeable, Turner Classic Movies' is premiering its original documentary The Edge of Outside this evening at 8pm ET and will be re-running it at 11:30. While The Edge of Outside is itself mostly the same old, same old when it comes to offering insight into the careers of the maverick directors it profiles -- Peter Bogdanovich is one of the talking heads... enough said -- the accompanying film series more than makes up for whatever this original may wont. (Then again if you aren't familiar with the names Cassavetes, Fuller and Nick Ray, you may want to consider viewing the program.) I, for one, plan on catching Nicholas Ray's On Dangerous Ground (1952) which my friend R. Emmet Sweeney of Termite Art recently named the best film at this year's Film Forum B-Noir series -- placing it in the "sublime" category -- that I somehow managed to neglect entirely. For those readers who plan on tuning in this evening, TCM, between screenings of the doc, will be showing a couple Cassavetes masterpieces, Faces (1968) and A Woman Under the Influence (1974) that easily rate among the finest examples of "outsider" cinema that the US has ever produced.


Michael E. Kerpan Jr. said...

Nice analysis of my favorite recent film "Linda Linda Linda". Not only BAE Doo-na, but all her Japanese colleagues were wonderful in this. Surprisingly, several of them were not actresses -- but professional musicians with little or no acting experience.

Discovery of this film (via the unsubbed Japanese DVD) has been expensive -- as it has required buying quite a few Japanese CDs (above and beyond the excellent soundtrack disc itself).

Matt Singer said...

Rob was way over the top on On Dangerous Ground -- 'twasn't that good.

And while I agree that the films TCM is showing are wonderful (I screwed up and incorrectly DVRed WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE, grumble grumble), the doc itself was an embarassment. If you want to hear Edward Burns compare himself to John Cassavetes (well I guess they both make films...) and hear random people explain why Alfred Hitchcock was an independent filmmaker (HE WASN'T YOU DOLTS!), this is the poorly made, underthought doc for you!

Peter said...

In terms of "sublime" noir, I like Ulmer's DETOUR more than Ray's ON DANGEROUS GROUND.