Mika Ninagawa is a world-renowned photographer known for her bright and eclectic photography. Her previous film, Sakuran began her entry into the world of film as a director of a different kind of film. A type of film to be seen, but not to be watched.
Helter Skelter is Ninagawa's second foray as director and displays a rather rough but promising 2 hours of pure camera glory. That is, when we refer to the film's dazzling displays and theatrics. The film's narrative for some can be a little less than substantial.
As with it's title character, the production as a whole could be described as something beautiful on the outside yet rotting from it's interiors. However, before you realize that the interior has all but rotten away, the viewer is left dazzled by the many colors projected, the dark red corridors of Ririko's apartment constantly haunting the viewers mind even as the curtains fall on the movie's final act. This film is at times, difficult to watch yet the snippets of modern day japan we are left with keep us glued and dazed at the anarchy contained in each consecutive frame.
Helter Skelter follows the stars, the glamour and the glory of the world of pop-japan and what it means to be famous. Some are born beautiful with a body to die for, and some must die to be blessed with a beautiful body. Helter Skelter questions the morale legitimacy of beauty, but not from the usual perspective of feminist onlookers whom take a bottom-up approach to plastic beauty but targeting the culprits who rot themselves for a chance at stardom and the true ugliness of Hollywood beauty.
Erika Sawajiri makes a stunning return to form as the psychotic dominatrix, Ririko. A self-obsessed country-renowned superstar whose defining features are her curvaceous body, her perfect face and an overpowering presence suited to that of a model. All is not as it seems however, as the exterior that captivates an audience of millions houses a container of pure chaos. A body with an identity long lost after countless treatments at the hands of a mysterious beauty clinic that implements ethically borderline methods to keep it's clients hooked. Nonetheless, Ririko is "loved" by her assistant, Michiko Hata (Shinobu Terajima) and her maintains connections with her " Mama", Hirko Tada (Kaori Momoi) and playboy Takao Nanbu (Yosuke Kubozuka), both people who seek a relationship of mutual gain from Ririko and a network to contain her secrets.
This however, does not do enough to fool detective Makoto Asada who knows of her darkest secrets, and the people associated with her rising to star-dom and those who would see her fall. Nonetheless, Ririko is an absolute ball to watch. The pure chaos and ugliness of the character becomes the film's main draw. A story of pure form and metaphor and a director that makes the world of camera and the world of reality almost indistinguishable for the viewer. Helter Skelter is a journey for a very minute, specific audience who are potential fans of Mikagawa's eccentric style of cinematography which she borrows from her background in photography, and an audience who want to enjoy a chaotic story of a rather atrocious female star who, like the film itself, has a lot of problems it deals with in a single moment. Assaulting images of red petals, haunting mirrors, countless drugs and imaginary butterflies give viewers so much to take in at one moment. Enough ugliness to distract you for the film's unforgivably sluggish narrative.
Almost enough to distract you from the film's questionable use of music with classical pieces including a dubbed version of Kanon D in one of the film's primary scenes. That is not to say that the sound editors did a magnificent job with the film otherwise, guiding the audience well in times of psychotics and tension. If only the film had dropped some of it's more Tarantino-esque ques with music.
The film rolling in at 2 hours, feels like a much longer affair with elongated scenes of sex, gratioutously repeated rolls of crazed tantrums and a predictable final act which is at least a watchable final arc. The film spends too long on it's point of showing a deteriorating interior hidden by the grace of beautiful skin, and at times the film tends to frustrate it's viewer. But the Helter Skelter specializes in chaos, and showing us the breakdown of it's main character with the use of symbolic themes, namely the butterfly and the reoccurring "impurities" that reappear on her body like a leech.
Helter Skelter is a fun ride, albeit a rocky one. However you should be warned that the film comes packed with scenes of rampart sex, sudden acts of violence and some very questionable morale themes. If you do choose to watch this film however, do yourself a favour and try not to take this in as something you watch, but rather a film that you would see and analyse just as you would to any piece of still picture art.
Summary: Not so much a great film to watch, but an enjoyable film to see. Ririko's story is a roller coaster ride that seems bumpy at first, but the pure adrenaline will leave you satisfied. B (7/10)