Growing Japanese

Eunice Kim


There seems to be no shortage of stories about the wonders and troubles of youth in independent Japanese films from the 2000s. These slice-of-life movies may feel bare, but they give poignancy to every moment and to every ordinary individual. Though their extreme naïveté may not be for everyone, here are some Japanese coming-of-age films to fill the slow spring days.

All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001) – Shunji Iwai

This film is based on a rather convoluted and chaotic novel, a result of multiple contributors writing online. It addresses social issues that trouble adolescents – such as bullying, underage prostitution, and alienation – but through an esoteric and enigmatic obfuscation that involves a cyber-cult devoted to a faceless singer, Lily Chou-Chou. Although it seems to leave most of its viewers more bewildered than satisfied, it features an experimental approach to the camera that captures raw light and movement. Iwai went on to make a much more lighthearted and successful romantic comedy three years later, Hana and Alice. Also see Gaichu, a film that similarly deals with repressed angst and precocious schoolchildren.

Linda Linda Linda (2005) – Nobuhiro Yamashita

This teen flick about an all-female high school band is structurally and thematically accessible to any viewer, yet it also explores tropes of school life that convey a tangible nostalgia and a touch of wistfulness to a Japanese audience. A portrayal of young women within the framework of hard work and close-knit friendships, it embodies the Japanese vision of youth: a period of life tacitly assigned the task to pursue meaning through a release of one’s innermost passions. Another notable detail is that the band’s vocalist is a Korean transfer student, which creates a unique dynamic between cultures that coexist within the band.

Blue (2001) – Hiroshi Ando

The film focuses on an intimate relationship between two high school girls with disparate personalities. It features unusually slow and minimal shots that immerse the viewer in the mundane beauty of rural Japan. The acting occasionally feels too deliberate and unnaturally earnest for plausible adolescent girls, but it’s an element that’s easy to overlook given the idealized purity and simplicity of their relationship.