April 19, 2007

Linda Linda Linda: giddy Japanese punk rock high school flick


Reviewer: Erin Donovan
Rating (out of 5): ****

At the beginning of Linda Linda Linda, the end of school is nigh and the annual Holly Festival is just three days away. Due to a P.E. injury and in-fighting, Kei, Kyoko and Nizomi's band is in shambles. They decide on a new song for the festival (the titular "Linda Linda Linda" by the Blue Hearts), to switch up instruments, and to find a new singer by sitting in the courtyard after school and picking the first person who walks by. The first is a boy (no go), the second is Rinko (recently kicked out of the band, double-no go), and the third is Son (played by Du-na Bae, The Host, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Take Care of My Cat) a Korean foreign exchange student who speaks so little Japanese she's not even sure what she's agreed to until the band's first practice -- which is a total disaster.

It's a little jolting to see a punk rock high school movie told in Nobuhiro Yamashita's deliberate, Altman-esque fashion. As the girls practice and go about their lives, the camera never moves, the takes are long and the dialogue authentically awkward.

It's not in these students' nature to bemoan that their school is like a prison, but Yamashita shows the place as an endless series of concrete and steel with only small traces of vitality that the kids create for themselves. There's also a certain slow-building giddiness the viewer feels as the girls' endless practicing (a few nights are spent camped out at school) start to pay off. Particularly in scenes where drummer Kyoko (played by Aki Maeda, Battle Royale) is at home tapping on her textbooks and can't be bothered when her bratty little brother pesters her, or when singer Son argues with the desk clerk of a karaoke club trying to rent a room but doesn't understand the minimum drink policy.

There are also a few bizarre (almost Kubrick-ish) dream sequences borne from the girls' exhaustion: Son practices graciously introducing her bandmates to an exhilarated crowd in an empty cafeteria the night before the gig; guitarist Kei dreams her boyfriend gives her a detachable rubber hand to play more difficult blues chords and that her mother invites The Ramones to the gig and they're the only ones who show up. The film glides along capturing the thousands of tribulations and frustrations of an upstart band and the last few days of bona fide childhood.

The song itself is also a delight, despite hearing it a dozen times in fits and starts throughout the film, and the final performance has a contagious glee. The Blue Hearts seem to be roughly the equivalent of a Japanese Green Day and were a perfect choice to get a cafeteria full of kids jumping up and down. Former Smashing Pumpkins' guitarist James Iha also provides a sublimely elegiac score.

One caveat, the subtitles might have been a little too generous. There are quite a few moments where it seems that Son's rough Japanese is registering a lot more oddly with the other characters than the words on screen convey.

Scant DVD extras do include a Blue Hearts featurette.

See also: Rock 'n' Roll High School, Music and Lyrics, Ghost World, Kamikaze Girls.

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Posted by cphillips at April 19, 2007 10:32 AM

This is such as sweet, lovely, odd and oddly real-seeming movie. And the the director (or maybe the director of photography) really knows how to frame shots for maxmium beauty of composition. GC members should take a chance on this one. Thanks, Erin, for calling it to our attention!

Posted by: James van Maanen at May 17, 2007 2:57 PM

The problem with the subtitles in the film are that they do not distinguish when Son is speaking Korean and when she is speaking Japanese. With some effort one can distinguish that when she speaks with confidence she is using her native tongue (I can think of five scenes when she seems to speak korean).

Posted by: Kevin at July 23, 2009 5:44 PM

When Son is speaking in Korean, there are parentheses around the subtitles.


Posted by: Masterboy at December 15, 2009 7:46 AM

I liked the the movie, the movie version of the song is better than the music video version

Posted by: craig at March 9, 2010 7:49 PM
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