Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 16th October 2012
In cinemas around Hong Kong from 11 October 2012 and reviewed as part of 16th Japanese Film Festival, Sydney 2012
Hong Kong Box Office Taking: HK$6,044,283
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The latest film “Helter Skelter” from famed fashion photographer turned director Mika Ninagawa is an ambitious piece of work that goes beyond its telling issue of the evils that lies in the plastic surgery craze. The film is filled with sharp bright colours, plenty of imageries and an insightful look at the cost of fame, beauty, looks and sex. “Helter Skelter” is ultimately beautiful to look at and goes on a deeper level than many of its contemporaries but somehow it still manages to come up rather flawed and mistimed. After a 5 years hiatus from the big screen and a failed marriage Erika Sawajiri simply shines through in the leading role.
“Helter Skelter” lacks a cutting edge that is required to captivate the audience. The unevenness is evident throughout, as the film itself feels like an emotional roller coaster. Perhaps indirectly the filmmaker is trying to show how much turmoil, depression and slightly mental that Sawajiri has become. The constant use of bright and bloody red throughout the film shows just how much Sawajiri is playing with fire. When things are going well, the fame that comes with being beautiful brings popularity, acceptance and recognition. However, this strive for fame is like a dangerous drug, an inevitable addiction that makes her inner soul wanting more and more. The film raises a number of questions about the price of fame, the superficial nature of showbiz, the aftereffects of plastic beauty and the equation between beauty and happiness. These are all prominent issues as the good news is that Ninagawa does not shy away from any of these.
The film first reaches an emotional crescendo with the purity of the contrasting cherry blossom scene where Erika meets her innocence looking sister. This moment in particular hits the audience hard and straight through the heart as to how far away she is actually from her sister, both physically and figuratively. However, the film often drags at crucial moments, where in turn hampers the audience’s ability to connect with the film on a deeper level as the film seems to be toying around with their moods through some inconsistent filmmaking. The scene where Sawajiri is required to face the media upon being exposed remains one of the most striking moment within the film. It is rather ironic that Sawajiri will end up destroying one of her few pieces of bodies that are still real, perfectly transcends to the audience the feeling of freedom, hope and new life.
Erika Sawajiri plays the leading role of a beauty queen who sinks deeper and deeper into depression, drugs, fame and plastic surgery. This is by far her most complicated character in her career. Sawajiri first caught my eye by displaying some fine acting chop as the older romantic interest in the coming of age tale “Sugar and Spice”. Since then, Sawajiri has left the industry, got married and divorce all within 5 years and “Helter Skelter” acts as a shadow of her own career in the show business. There is a level of sadness within her eyes that perfectly portray the situation and at times it feels rather scary as the blurring of boundaries seems to be making her real and cinematic life contravened. Other supporting characters like Kaori Momoi as the motherly figure is constantly dressed in bright green, as her character is never truly defined and remains a sense of mystery to audience as to her true intentions towards Sawajiri.
All in all, “Helter Skelter” is not a film about sex and nor should it be. Although it marks as Sawajiri’s first nude role, the scenes are never distasteful, but rather it allows the audience to feel the vulnerabilities behind her character. “Helter Skelter” is an uneven and flawed film, but Ninagawa stylistic and daring direction keeps the film afloat. “Helter Skelter” is the kind of film that has a lot to say and combining with a career redefining performance from Sawajiri, the film is able to give the evils of plastic surgery, a much needed all-out blast. Still, this is a good enough film, even if it is clearly flawed in its own way. (Neo 2012)
I rated it 7.5/10