Creating an amalgamate movie from other movies is occasionally a very hard job, but the result can be great, as Tarantino has proven time and time again, particularly with “Kill Bill”. Ken Ninomiya took the concept a step even further, by using Kyoko Okazaki’s manga as its base in order to shoot a film that loans elements from “Helter Skelter” and “River’s Edge (also based on Okazaki’s works), “The World of Kanako”, but most surprisingly, “Spring Breakers” and even a bit of “Velvet Goldmine”. Let us see how he fared.
The story unfolds in a number of different timelines. Immediately as the film begins, we hear one of the protagonists, Miki, talking about the titular character, Chiwawa, just before we learn that her body was found mutilated. In the next scene, the timeline switches to the past, when Miki and her “gang” are introduced to Chiwawa, who comes in as Yoshida’s girlfriend, a man Miki seems to harbor some kind of feelings for, drawing mixed reactions. As the film follows Chiwawa’s story from that point on, we see her friendship with Miki growing, her rather strange relationship with Yoshida deteriorating, and a number of other interactions with the rest of the group, a number of which include intense sexual elements. On another timeline, after Chiwawa’s death, a journalist is interviewing members of the group regarding the deceased (who had already entered the show business world, although not only its shiny part), and a number of “testimonies” bring more of Chiwawa’s character to the fore, revealing that none of them actually knew her completely.
Let me start with the way the film references the aforementioned movies. The frequently delirious cinematography and coloring, and their combination with the excellent, mostly electronic and pop music give the film a music video essence, that much resembles “Spring Breakers”, with the occasional sensualism also moving towards that direction. The occasional combination of the aforementioned elements with grotesqueness and violence mirrors “Helter Skelter”, while the relationships of many and different young people reminded me of “River’s Edge”. The concept of finding out who Chiwawa really was seems much like Koji Yakusho’s efforts regarding Nana Komatsu in “World of Kanako”. Lastly, Chiaki Kuriyama’s presence as the journalist seems like a nudge to “Kill Bill” ( I may overextend a bit at this point). Add to all these the presence of Tadanobu Asano as Sakata, a photographer who becomes involved with Chiwawa, and you have a film that seems to function as a tribute to contemporary Japanese cinema (to say the least), and can be appreciated for this fact alone.
The even more impressive aspect, however, is that Ken Nonomiya has managed to combine all these elements in a narrative that works excellently, keeping the interest for the whole of the 104 minutes of its duration, and in the process, through the complete deconstruction of the titular character, presenting a number of comments regarding contemporary Japanese society, and in essence, human nature.
The world of show business, and particularly its dark side, and the fact that youths in Japan nowadays just roam around their lives with no sense of purpose, just searching for any kind of excitement are the two most central ones. The deconstruction of Chiwawa, who appears as a happy-go-lucky girl, but is revealed to be rather insecure in the hands of Sakata, is another focal point, with her downward spiral being the main source of thriller elements in the movie. Miki’s seriousness and pragmatism, particularly regarding her acknowledgement that “the party” cannot last forever is another very interesting aspect, with Mugi Kadowaki presenting this as convincingly as Shiori Yoshida as Chiwawa presents the exact opposite. This last aspect (that the party is over), in combination with the “search for the true Chiwawa”, the visuals, the music, and a sense of nostalgia that permeates the last timeline, is what reminded me of “Velvet Goldmine”.
Of course, none of the above could be presented so artfully if not for Ninomiya’s great editing, that has all the different aspects of the film glued together in a way that makes total sense, despite how unlikely that may sound.
Regarding the rest of the cast, Ryo Narita is excellent as the despicable womanizer, and Tadanobu Asano and Chiaki Kuriyama look as cool ever, occasionally stealing the show with their presence.
“Chiwawa” is a great film that functions excellently both as a tribute and as a standalone movie. Definitely among the must-see of the year.