Awashed in a myriad of colors, Helter Skelter depicts the descent into madness of a beautiful woman as she struggles to maintain her deteriorating mental health while keeping to the image she desperately tries to preserve. Mika Ninagawa, who not only is the director of this film but also a photographer known for her colorful and varied style of photography, paints a twisted and relentless story that critiques the industry of Japan through a celebrity’s fall from grace.
Young Tiger Lilies everywhere
The film’s main character, Lilico, undergoes a full body surgery that gives way to stardom as she becomes adored by many women, especially that of young girls. Her whole image is a manifestation of what every girl wants to be: the perfect woman. This does not, however, take into account the negative effects that beauty has had on Lilico herself, who indulges in sexual pleasure and material worth. The constant need to put up with her popular image tortures her, and this torture manifests in her desire to torture others by ways of manipulation and deceit.
Ninagawa, throughout the course of the film, interweaves Lilico’s story with a harsh and cruel environment. While the film itself is laced with elements of fiction, it remains grounded in its theme and keeps to a sense of realism that is illustrated through the competitive reality of the industry. The idol worshipping, the detachment from reality, and the desperation coming from preserving one’s image are all characterized by Lilico and her vicious relationship with the industry. Physical looks are the only way to become successful in such a tough environment, and people not born with the kind of beauty appealing towards the public are forced to pursue another career, or worse, are hanging by a thread barely making ends meet amidst the competitiveness. This is not all that different from real life, especially given the nature of the Idol Industry in Japan and Korea and how superficial beauty is propped into a high pedestal, with an emphasis on keeping to the most profitable image.
Ninagawa’s cinematography only serves to elevate Helter Skelter‘s trippy and multicolored facets of reality. The layout of Lilico’s apartment to the jarring imagery of her photoshoots and near the end when she finally decides to destroy herself. There’s a lot of beautiful sequences spread throughout the film.
My gripes with this film stem from its lengthy runtime and frequent sexual scenes. The film consistently reveals just how long it is, reaching two hours, especially towards the middle with a lot of turbulence and mystery-esque aspects. The sexual scenes feel like too much, especially when the psychedelic sequences are framed much better at describing just how far Lilico has fallen. With that in mind, the movie is exceptional at what it does and these gripes are for the most part minor.
Helter Skelter is a storm that does not subside until the end. Mika Ninagawa unfolds a tragic story that perfectly encapsulates the ugly side of stardom and the industry it sprouts from. Establishing provocative themes with stunning cinematography, she creates an exceptional film through and through.