JFF Review - Helter Skelter

Reminiscent of Audition by Takasii Miike, Helter Skelter is a thrilling insight into the insanity of living in the public eye, a fact that seems to resonate with the films director and lead actress.

Dangerously beautiful superstar Lilico has the world at her feet. She also has a secret: she owes her entire ‘perfect’ body to plastic surgery. When a naturally gorgeous new talent arrives on the scene, Lilico’s reign is threatened – but this is just a precursor to a more sinister threat which could see Lilico spiral out of control. Directed by fashion photographer Mika Ninagawa, Helter Skelter is an unsettling, discordant visual feast that lays bare the perversion and pathology of beauty - Japan Foundation

Director Mika Ninagawa is said to be Japan's most popular photographer and has worked on a broad range of subjects from travel to fashion for the likes of Elle, Vogue and GQ. She uses her background in this field to full effect by capturing not only some beautiful shots and surreal set arrangements but also in capturing the politics of the fashion industry. Based upon manga by the same name, Ninagawa is the perfect choice as director, especially considering her recent stint as director of Sakuran. Also prevalent are some of Ninagawa's photographic trademarks such as goldfish and lush, bold colour palettes.

Lead actress Erika Sawajiri (LiLiCo) is the perfect fit for this role and is utterly believable as a fashion model, probably because in her early career, she was one. She performs well and is entirely believable as an out of control tarento and makes you wonder whether current idols such as Rola and Jun Hasegawa struggle with such pressure. Supporting characters also shine to create a great ensemble cast who, unfortunately, suffer from a lack of direction and growth.

One of the most disappointing aspects of the film is the character of LiLiCo and her characterisation. While her manager, Michiko Hata, plays the counter-balance to LiLiCo's literal helter skelter psyche, there is not a single person in the film who is likeable. In short, none of the characters are developed to a point where the audience feels for them. While a beautiful looking cast, each and every character is quite ugly on the inside. This weakness is an overwhelming flaw and detracts from what are supposed to be scenes of shock and awe. While a pretty film which is enjoyable for the most part, Helter Skelter never quite delivers at the end of its grand crescendo.

Helter Skelter, like with all pop culture, is a reflection of community sentiment and perhaps an insight into the fears of what is to come. Having flicked through my fair share of Japanese fashion magazines, I can honsestly say that I share these concerns. The amount of advertisements for "magic" treatments from diets to creams and even plastic surgery are everywhere. A sad state of affairs that is a growing issue in Japan, the eternal search for beauty.

One thing is for certain, Helter Skelter has ensured that I will never look at a copy of my wife's ViVi magazine the same.

Helter Skelter is screening in Sydney on the 23rd of November and in Melbourne on the 3rd of December.