Current School: Montgomery High School
Dream job: Musician or pro-badminton
Favorite place: Hong Kong or the Bay Area
Favorite TV series: Liar Game or One Piece
Fun activity: Exploring restaurants in China

This article was first published Oct. 4, 2010

“All About Lily Chou-Chou”

Director: Shuji Iwai

Copyright, 2001

One of my favorite Japanese films is “All About Lily Chou-Chou,” directed by the Shunji Iwai. In junior high, Hoshino is the valedictorian, but his classmates alienated him as a result. However, Yuichi, a fellow student, befriends him. Once they reach high school, Hoshino faces the divorce of his parents and family ruin. Thereafter, the two friends become distant due to Hoshino’s radical change in behavior, formerly good-natured and now cruel and violent. He becomes a leader and bully of the class, committing acts such as blackmailing the girls into becoming “compensated daters.” Yuichi is just another victim, coerced into doing dirty work and participating in bully sessions as both victim and perpetrator.

In contrast to the brutality and hate of their school lives, they both love Lily Chou-Chou. The title is a reference to a fictive music idol who never actually appears in the movie. She is only present in the movie as a force that permeates the lives of the students, who are fixated on her every presence, which they religiously term “the Ether”. With online messaging on a fansite, they anonymously communicate their passion for Lily Chou-Chou, something they never communicate in real life. Here’s an example of one of the text scenes:

The Ether heals my pain.
From: Dream Child

The things you hold dear,
hurt you the most.
You live with that.
That’s why we have Ether.
A place of eternal peace.
That’s the Ether.
From: Les Paul

Does anyone else make music
from the Ether?
The Beatles, for sure.

Bjork, for me.
From: P-O-W-E-R

No way.
Only Lily has the Ether.
From: Sleepy Head

When I watched this movie, the use of Lily Chou-Chou as an escape felt most real to me. In all their desperation and emotional alienation, they go to an idol figure to release all their anger and passion into. However, this behavior meant further self-alienation and ultimately a polar life of closed-off anger in public and fanatical passion in private. It’s quite unhealthy.

Watch the trailer, and you will find scenes of verdant fields and saturated skies amidst the character introductions. But you’ll have to watch the 3 hour long film to truly see the characters and end up feeling an inexpressible, aching sadness for them.


Thanks, Lloyd. Here is a trailer for the film.