Available online. Approximately 115 minutes.
A group of high school girls had planned to play a couple of cover songs for the school festival, but an injury to the guitarist and subsequent fallout between two of the girls forced the three remaining band members to find a simpler song to play and a new vocalist with only three days to go. After bringing up Shiina Ringo only to dismiss her as too difficult and then bringing up Puffy (as in Ami Yumi, not Daddy) and then dismissing them with an insult, they decide to look through some old music recordings and find the song “Purezento” by Jitterin’ Jin:
I don’t know about you, but I do not enjoy this at all…and it seems as if the leader of the trio is not exactly happy about the choice. But, surprise surprise, the recording is mislabeled and it is actually the song “Linda Linda”, by the Blue Hearts:
This song came out when these characters were babies, if they were even born at the time. The song and the band, however, were still well known in 2004 for being hugely influential in the Japanese punk scene, and two of the girls were rocking out to it. Personally, I think that it is okay, but whatever. Anyways, they pick this song as well as a couple of other Blue Hearts songs to cover.
The shakeup of the band means that it is lacking a guitarist and lead singer. There is merely Kei on the keyboards, Nozomi on the bass guitar, and Kyoko on the drums. Kei, the leader of the group, decides to try the guitar. In desperation, the trio rope in Son, the school’s lone Korean exchange student. Son’s grasp of Japanese is not that great and she is probably the only one in the school who doesn’t know the Blue Hearts songs by heart. Actually, it is subtly implied that one of the three girls is not as familiar with the band as the other two are, but it is one of those almost throwaway details that add to the story without being a plot point. Also, I am not sure why none of the three decided to become the lead singer, since Kei had already switched from being the moderately skilled keyboard player to the uncertain guitarist, but I guess that they had already made up their minds at that point.
We see the four practicing alone at home and together under less than ideal circumstances, such as having practice time clash with one member’s other festival job serving crepes. They practice a lot and often end up falling asleep from practicing so much, but they still have fun with it. In one amusing scene, the band has to play as quietly as possible and they all crack up with the knowledge of how stupid it sounds. We don’t even hear the band playing the song proper until almost halfway through the movie, and even then, it lacks the energy that they will need to make it work. They are extremely dedicated to practicing, even though at least two of them are inexperienced in what they are doing. It is notable that, although the girls are covering songs by an all-male band, they do not change the lyrics to keep it heterosexual and they never comment on the looks of the members of the original Blue Hearts. They do transpose the key of the song, though.
Throughout the story, we see a bit of their lives; issues with boys, family, and so on. Most of it is only hinted at, though. There are a few scenes of exposition where the teenage organizer of the concert explains the band shakeup to an adult faculty member, but is privy to only the basic story. The argument that had led to one of the members quitting the band before the start of the movie is not completely explained, and the reason why that seriously harmed her friendship with Kei is left ambiguous. There are simply things that the characters do not want to talk about, so the audience is left to interpret what may have happened or just accept that they cannot know everything. It is never even stated what the former band was going to play or what they were going to be called, and the dialog deliberately calls attention to that at times. The characters are living in the present and living for the very near future. Their personalities manifest through their practicing and their conversations.
There are some jokes with Son struggling with speaking Japanese or having trouble understanding what is said to her. There are a couple “funny foreigner” bits where she fails to pick up on cues or slips (sometimes deliberately) into Korean. They are not, however, as mean-spirited as they could have been. Son is as much a main character as the other three. And while it is somewhat ironic that she is chosen to be the vocalist, the opportunity allows her to find her voice in a country that she may not fully understand or that understands her. The band gives her a sense of belonging, which her lonely little Korean segment of the school festival did not give her. On the one hand, that none of the Japanese people outside of one of the faculty members and some little kid friend seemed to care about her contribution may speak to how little the Japanese (or just those behind this film) think of Korean culture or ethnic Koreans living in their country. Even her bandmates seem disinterested. On the other hand, her projects seemed rather lame and I got the impression that her heart was not really in it anyways. So, while she was initially reluctant to take part in the band, it ended up meaning a lot to her.
There is even a scene where another character attempts to speak Korean to Son and, especially given the context of the scene, it is much more amusingly awkward than any of her scenes of struggling with Japanese. It is not really about whether she can overcome cultural differences or linguistic difficulties, but whether those things will make it difficult for her to enjoy living in Japan. And, eventually, it becomes pretty clear that she will be okay, particularly with her new friends. Is that a little bit optimistic given the perception of Koreans in Japan? Well, maybe, but whatever. Son even gets a chance to have an entire monologue in Korean. Granted, some of the stuff about her being Korean is not obvious if you are unfamiliar with Japanese culture or cannot tell the difference between the Korean and Japanese languages (the DVD is not particularly helpful in that regard, whereas the Youtube English subs shows the Korean in parentheses), but that is a small thing. Just keep in mind that, whenever she talks a lot or talks really quickly, she is probably speaking in Korean. If the other characters look at her weird or rudely tell her to stop speaking gibberish, then she was speaking Korean. I will say, though, that the name of their band, Paranmaum, is the Korean translation of Blue Hearts. This name was chosen kind of by accident, with the implication that none of them had thought of coming up with a name.
For a story about teenagers playing punk rock, the movie is relatively slow and quiet. The narrative goes at its own pace and meanders a bit. The plot is deliberately low-scale, setting it apart from many stories of kids trying to form a band. The acting is understated and naturalistic, rarely giving into the sense of urgency that the characters might be feeling. That is probably due to the plot: the festival may be a big deal, but that is the endgame, not to make it to the big time. The soundtrack, by James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins, is pretty mellow and sometimes just ambient keyboards. All of this may make the movie come across as boring. To me, though, it would not have worked any other way. To make it more extreme or to play it more broadly would have detracted from the ending. There are a few plot contrivances, but they are nothing major. The contrivances that lead to the ending may have caused eye-rolling if the stakes were higher, but they work here. There is one fantasy sequence, which is mostly a consequence of them being completely exhausted, and even that is low-key. Perhaps the pace and tone is that way because the movie is not in the rush of the moment, but in the fog of memory; a vision of the final triumphant moment of one’s youth. One is not rushing towards the end because once the end is reached, it is all over. And there is no going back except in one’s memory. It may explain why the adult characters kept getting sidelined and how the Korean character was accepted into the group so quickly. It is no coincidence that the one adult character of actual prominence in the movie is played by the younger brother of one of the Blue Hearts members.
Some movies and shows about high school show it to be a super-awesome piece of wish fulfillment, a pre-apocalyptic warzone, or an inescapable sleep-factory. Linda Linda Linda just shows three days in the lives of four students. Sometimes they have fun. Sometimes they have to work. Sometimes they do absolutely nothing. That is pretty much it. There are those who might question how the kids get the run of the school at this time, but that is pretty much the nature of this festival. The main characters are not heroes or brats, just kids with flaws and charms. They can be weird, goofy, obsessed, and laid-back. There are no villains, not even the girl who quit the band. There are no impossible odds to be overcome, just difficulties. There are certain stories that do not get explained until much later, plot threads that do not get developed, and character arcs that are incomplete. That is just how things are sometimes. Things do not simply resolve themselves just because the movie has ended. The lives of the characters are not over simply because this particular story is over. It is a slice of life film.
The movie starts out with a girl who is reciting what sounds like a manifesto about being kids and cherishing their childhood as something real as opposed to a phase to be abandoned upon adulthood. And while it gets undercut somewhat humorously, it still seems to be the point of the movie. The girls are trying to retain their childhood and avoid getting lost in the world of adulthood that is closing in on them. They are having being kids for one last time and forever. Sometimes, that just takes a lot of hard work. You may not necessarily be the best at what you do, but if you do your best, then you can still shine through. The rewards may not be a billion-dollar deal or a private gig for the Ramones, but they are there and they are real. Being able to assert one’s childhood and give it one’s last hurrah is its own reward. And while this movie offers nothing big, it provides rewards of its own, if one is willing to accept them.
WTF ASIA 50: The Last Supper (China: 2012, approx. 116 minutes)
WTF ASIA 51: A Bittersweet Life (South Korea: 2005, approx. 119 minutes)