Linda Linda Linda
directed by Nobuhiro Yamashita
starring Doo-na Bae, Aki Maeda, Yu Kashii, Shiori Sekine
It’s the last year of school, and their last school festival. Kei, Kyoko, and Nozomi are determined to make this one count by performing as a rock band during the closing ceremonies of the event. The movie starts with the band in a shambles. The singer is injured during phys ed and can’t perform, then the keyboardist and other singer get into a huge fight ending with the latter quitting the band. Luckily Kyoko, the upbeat drummer, and the only one holding things together, works things out. She subtly smooths things over with Kei, the tempestuous keyboardist/guitar player, reigns in the shy and scattered bass player, Nozomi, and they decide to go through with the performance. Together they start looking for a new song to play. They settle on “Linda Linda Linda” by the Japanese punk band The Blue Hearts. At this point everything is perfect, except for one little thing: they don’t have a singer.
The girls devise a simple yet bizarre method of selection, which results in an unlikely pick. They recruit Son, a lonely Korean exchange student with questionable Japanese language ability, and immediately begin practicing for the big day.
The film takes its time. It doesn’t rush toward any formulaic climax and the main source of dramatic tension is over within the first ten minutes. Instead of forcing some kind of conflict, the movie simply follows the girls along in their daily lives. The depiction of Japanese high school life is so accurate in fact; any of these girls could exist in real life.
For example, students in Japanese high schools begin preparing for the school festival months in advance, they spend all day, everywhere they go, in their uniforms, they’re at school more often than they are at home, they eat lots of snacks, gossip, have crushes on people, and the amount of studying they do, well, let’s just say, is arguable. The last stuff, of course, isn’t so different from their American peers. You see, it is this kind of attention to detail and elevation of the mundane occurrences of high school existence to cinematic art which makes this movie so enjoyable and charming.
Son, played by Korean talent Du-na Bae, owns the movie. She’s the goofy girl that makes everyone laugh. Often relying on the kindness of other characters instead of her Japanese language skills, she steals the show with her almost painful sincerity and sense of humor in the face of cultural conflict. There’s an unforgettable scene when she goes to a karaoke bar and all she wants to do is sing, but the man at the counter says she has to buy a drink as well. She can’t understand this, not only because of the difficult and honorific Japanese he uses, but also because the concept is totally foreign to her, even though it’s so perfectly understood and accepted by the Japanese: You go to a karaoke joint, you gotta buy a drink. This scene recalls the moment in Lost in Translation when Bill Murray is posing for the Japanese photographer and can’t understand a word the man is saying. It’s both hysterical and difficult to watch. With Son, however, it’s just a teenage girl just trying to get by instead of a washed up actor, and is infinitely more relatable than Sophia Coppola’s take on being a fish out of water in Japan. Son, in fact, is reason enough to see this movie.
The story goes on and the girls practice and practice, sleep a little, then practice some more until finally, the school festival is almost over and it’s up to them to close the show.
Some of the extras on the DVD include cast biographies, an audio FAQ about The Blue Hearts, as well as Japanese culture notes where you can learn about such things as school festivals, uniforms, and confessions of love, all of which are integral parts of Japanese high school life, and let me tell you, make for some funny moments.
So if you want your socks charmed off, to hear some good music, and to learn heaps about Japanese high school life, then Linda Linda Linda is for you!
Linda Linda Linda: www.linda-movie.com