As Momoko (Kyôko Fukada) speeds along the highway on her motor scooter, she does not notice the van heading towards her and crashes right into it, flying over the top and bidding farewell to her life in the process. But she thinks that's not such a good way to start the movie, so she rewinds all the way back through her life, past her birth, to the Rococo era, where she wishes she could have been born. Everything back then would have suited her perfectly, from the pretty dresses to the embroidery to the lovemaking - but she was stuck in 21st Century Japan...
This was the film that brought Testuya Nakashima to international attention, one of those idiosyncratic directors from the Far East who were successful worldwide to some extent without needing to compromise their artistic visions. Indeed, it was better for their aficionados if they did not make any concessions to commercialism as it was viewed outside of their home countries, and even as Nakashima moved on to more emotionally complex works, it was useful to look back at where he came from as far as his efforts went. With this, what was on the surface a candy coloured teen movie had something to say, although you might have had to dig for it.
That was because if you did choose to watch Kamikaze Girls, or Shimotsuma monogatari if you were Japanese, you risked a sugar overdose thanks to everything being apparently soaked in sweetness before shooting began. What made this more palatable was the amusing sense of humour, most obviously deployed in the way that Momoko comments on the action through voiceover or at times by talking to camera, and skipping around from subject to subject as if she were concerned that dwelling on the one thing for too long would result in the audience growing restless. Take that introduction: we get her hobbies, lifetsyle and family detailed in comedy sketches.
All of which could only fail to win over the hardest of hearts, thanks to both Nakashima's irreverent (except when it counted) style, and Fukuda's endearing performance as the seventeen-year-old, so-called Lolita, the term used for the type of follower of fashion she was depicting. Which basically meant frills, frills, and more frills, whether on the dresses, the bonnets or the parasol that she carries with her; it makes Momoko happy to adorn herself in this manner, and she uses it as a substitute for any social life. When we see her in school, she doesn't have any friends, and is set on pursuing her happiness in other ways, by becoming her own idealised fantasy persona.
But into her insular world roars Ichigo (Anna Tsuchiya), a husky-voiced girl gang member on a scooter that is her pride and joy. They meet when she shows up at her countryside home demanding that Momoko sell her "useless", ex-Yakuza father's imitation designer clothes (basically T-Shirts with brand names on them), and for some reason Ichigo takes a shine to her, bringing her out of her shell even though she is extremely reluctant to engage with the wider society. Of course, before the end Momoko has caught on that it's important to have friends, but so does Ichigo as she has troubles of her own, looking up to the gang leader but also secretly in love with the huge-quiffed Ryuji (Sadao Abe), and that gives rise to an unexpected conflict. It is oversweet, but then it's also absurd and in its way very knowing and self aware, so that you sympathise with this odd duo as they brave their way towards a stronger connection. Music by Yôko Kanno.