Based on the homonymous manga by Kyoko Okazaki, that won a number of awards in Japan, Helter Skelter was one of the most successful films of 2012, grossing US$24,231,554 and netting the 26th position at the Japanese box office.
Lilico is the top Japanese female idol: Stunning to perfection, kind, funny and generally, socially unblemished, she is a woman every teenage girl wants to be like and every man wants to conquer. Underneath that flawless facade though, a plethora of secrets and discrepancies is lurking.
Lilico is actually an insecure, shallow, malicious and overall sad individual that permanently obeys the commands of her corrupt and emotionless manager, Hiroko Tada and is totally depended upon her assistant, Michiko Hada. The latter actually arranges everything in her daily life, from her schedule to what she is going to eat and truly adores Lilico, no matter how harsh she treats her.
Lilico’s personal life is also a mess, having no time for a permanent relationship, thus resulting to just some sporadic sex acts with a man she hopes to have a normal relationship with, eventually.
As the script progresses, Lilico’s demise becomes more and more evident: The plethora of cosmetic surgeries she undertook, result in some awful blacks spots that require even more operations to disappear, a new prospective top idol appears, threatening her status, some well-hidden family secrets are revealed and her relationship takes a turn for the worse. What does she do to cope with all of that? She unleashes her full malicious spectrum upon her assistant, torturing her in every way possible.
The director, Mika Ninagawa presents us with another visual object of virtu, six years after her last movie, Sakuran. Chiefly a photographer, Ninagawa gives great attention to the cinematography, costumes and the overall design of the movie, bathing it in vivid colors and extreme images. Helter Skelter though, is so much more than an optical extravaganza.
The script sets about the concept of stardom and to what extremes the constant hunt for vogue can lead. The message regarding the contemporary Japanese society is evident: Every value has been commercialized, and beauty and appearances are everything, to the point of being grotesque. Stardom is like a cancer and the people after it are bound to sink deeply in the end, after their time in front of the lens has inevitably passed.
Ninagawa presents the life of Lilico in a parallel with the lives of the geishas of old times, that had to do everything their “Mom”, the proprietor of the house, told them, while having to reach extreme measures in order to look beautiful according to the standards of the era. Hiroko Tada, evidently plays the role of the Mom, in this particular film.
Also quite interesting is the relationship between the two leads, Lilico and Michico, with the former treating the latter like she is nothing, while on the opposite axis, the assistant treats the star as if she is everything, up to point reaching the borders of slavery.
Lastly, I have to note that the movie features a number of sex scenes, one thing that is presently missing from most of the recent productions, which appear to avoid them intently.
Erica Sawagiri is amazing as Lilico, artfully presenting quite a controversial character, whose life resembles her own in a way, although the movie pushes the entire idol concept to its grotesque limits. The actress that would play this particular part should be gorgeous and Sawajiri undoubtedly delivers.
Equally competent in her role is Shinobu Terajima, who plays the archetype of the victim in a most elaborate way, showing, in contrast to the character of Lilico, the extremes a person can reach simply due to love and dedication.
The rest of the cast, including Kaori Momoi, Kiko Mizuhara, Anne Suzuki and Hirofumi Arai, are also excellent in their parts, adding to the visual excess of the film with their own looks and to the script with their acting.
Helter Skelter is one of the best films of 2012, a true masterpiece of the grotesque.