Linda Linda Linda

Linda Linda Linda

****

Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

The hang-ups, the tears, the drama… who would go back to being a teenager? Well, if your own high-school days weren’t the happiest, you might want to adopt those portrayed in Linda, Linda, Linda as an alternative memory instead. While the film starts with the aftermath of an argument between best friends, the focus soon becomes new friendships, maybe-loves and, of course, having fun during what are supposed to be the best days of your life.

A bust-up between mates has left three girls, Kei (Yu Kashii), Kyoko (Aki Maeda) and Nozomi (Shiori Sekine), a band member short for the fast-approaching school festival. Almost accidentally, they settle on Son (Doona Bae), the Korean exchange student and all-round goofball space-cadet, as their vocalist. As they struggle to get their act together, there are plenty of distractions around. The rift between Kei and Rinko (Tayako Mimura), who used to be thick as thieves, continues to cause whispers in the hallways and, of course, there are boys to deal with. Kei’s ex-boyfriend reappears on the scene (in some ways this is the weakest link, as it’s not really explored very satisfactorily); then there is Kazuya, the shy object of Kyoko’s affections; and Son’s determined suitor, so desperate to win her approval that he learns Korean.

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But when it comes down to it, the girls really only have one thing on their mind: giving a mind-blowing performance when it comes to the big show.

It’s difficult to imagine school-kid characters so sweet, clean-cut and innocent being believable in a British or American context. No sex, no drugs – though there’s plenty of rock ‘n’ roll, it must be said – and none of the stalwarts of other well-loved teen films, such as moments of excruciating embarrassment, bullying or backstabbing. Somehow, Son’s suitor’s advances in mangled Korean are not wince-inducing, just very, very funny. And even the much-alluded to argument between Kei and Rinko isn’t fully elaborated. There’s no hairpulling or scratching, just a respectful stand-off for most of the film.

It doesn’t detract from the overall effect though and Linda, Linda, Linda will resonate with any audience. The humour is the key – it’s not subtle but it’s definitely original. And relentless, inflecting almost every scene, with Son generating most of the laughter, as she fearlessly embraces her new role as vocalist and attempts to make herself understood. Nor have director Yamashita and fellow writers played it for cheap laughs of the ‘look at the bumbling foreigner’ type: the misunderstandings and blunders are more often to do with her character than with poor Japanese. The laugh is always with Son, and never on her.

Son may steal the show in the end, but the other characters all pull their weight, particularly the beautiful, brooding Kei, ever aware of Rinko’s distance and pondering her ex’s announcement that he’s moving to Tokyo.

The pace feels a little sluggish at times, the camera lingering on certain travelling shots and stills longer than really necessary, but equally, this might also be a very shrewd manipulation on the part of Yamashita. He forces us to re-live that weird teenage time-space condition that makes the hours pass untenably slowly most of the time while still allowing momentous events to unfold with horrifying speed. And, in spite of occasionally provoking impatience with scenes that could have been cut down, it makes for compulsive viewing, right up to the will-they-won’t-they-make-it final scenes, which come with a few surprises.

Add a jangly, feelgood soundtrack (punchy covers of Japanese band The Blue Hearts are complemented by an original score from James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins fame) that totally captures the sheer lose-yourself joy of making music with friends, and there’s little more you could ask for. With its warm-hearted humour and painstaking observation of that delicate period right on the cusp of adulthood, executed by a pitch-perfect cast, Linda, Linda, Linda is sweet to the end without ever being saccharine.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2011
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In the days before the school's culture festival, a girl's music group is facing a dilemma.
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Director: Nobuhiro Yamashita

Writer: Kôsuke Mukai, Wakako Miyashita, Nobuhiro Yamashita

Starring: Doona Bae, Yu Kashii, Aki Maeda, Shiori Sekine, Tayako Mimura

Year: 2005

Runtime: 114 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Japan


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