All About Lily Chou-Chou Shunji Iwai

All About Lily Chou-Chou is a terrified walk on the line that separates art and album cover. Its core is a troubled 14-year-old named Yuichi who runs a BBS based on a pop singer named Lily Chou-Chou, and whose ardent zeal for the "ethereal" singer masks a yearning to transcend his miserable earthbound life, marked as it is by boredom, cruelty and despair. These are the emotions that are exorcised by pop, and countless fans invest their emotional time and energy into a non-specific variety that only approximates their feelings. The trick is to evoke that maelstrom of emotion without falling into the sentimental traps that often cheapen it. All About Lily Chou-Chou is a hair's breadth away from falling into picturesque ruins, with typical teenage angst rendered in antiseptic digital green, set to a singer who suggests Sarah McLachlan after listening to a lot of Pink Floyd, but for every Breakfast Club-ism and music video setup there's a glowing ember of white-hot pain. The film goes well past "aw shucks" teen tragedy with its labyrinth of bullying, hazing, prostitution and rape, somehow never descending into Alan Parker sensationalism and evoking the no-win situations from which pop seems the only solace. Shunji Iwai is a master of playing both sides of this street, and if he's no genius he understands better than some more studied directors the strangled motivations behind the otaku nation. And if nothing else it silences forever the critics who blame alienation on the internet, as if it were the cause and not the symptom. Extras include a well-produced "making of" featurette that's best at describing the film's origins as an internet novel; a video for Lily Chou-Chou's "Wings that Can't Fly," all gauzy head-shots and clips from the movie; and a biography and filmography of the director. (Home Vision/Morningstar)