Love & Pop

1998; Japan; 110 minutes; Directed by Hideaki Anno; Produced by Toshimichi Otsuki; Dist. by Toei Company

Hideaki Anno used to have a really solid grasp of clear simple story-telling. Really, he did. Back when we was working with Hayao Myazaki and directing Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water, Anno had a very charming, “Miyazaki-esque” style of story-telling that pulled in his audience and made them smile throughout the story while occasionally pulling at a few heart-strings. You’d never guess that by looking at his more popular work, Neon Genesis Evangelion, where Anno seems to channel a darker, more complicated side of his self and produces quite unnerving angles to an already dismal story premise.

Anno’s trend of complicated and unsettling visceral story-telling seems to be realized to its fullest with his first live-action, experimental film Love & Pop, a coming-of-age story about a young girl, named Hiromi Yoshii, who struggles as she watches all of her friends grow up into different people.

Love & Pop starts with Hiromi mentally recalling a strange dream of a guard forcing a man to pick up a scorpion. Hiromi then goes on to ready herself for a day of shopping with her friends. This is where very interesting camera placement comes into play, as there are shot of the clothes being pulled over the camera, as if it’s a P.O.V. Of the rest of the body as she gets dressed. Hiromi tells her dad, who is preoccupied with building his model train set, that she’s going out. Throughout the film, the director uses various unconventional techniques, such as flipping from widescreen to 4:3 aspect, distortions (with effects such as a fisheye lens), confuses, and makes use of overlays stacked in layers to convey the character’s emotions.

The film uses a series of flashbacks to establish Hiromi’s relationships with her friends while Hiromi talks on the phone with a random man she cold-called. The film uses title cards to portray the other end of the dialogue rather than futzed audio, while Hiromi’s on-screed dialogue can be heard perfectly. The flashbacks portray how her friends have been changing before this point in the film, and Hiromi’s narration provides in-sight as to how she’s reacting to their changes. One of Hiromi’s friends shows her a cell-phone this random man let her borrow for the day, explaining that he wanted her to call boys so he could hear those boys’ messages. The girls leave messages on the phone advertising themselves as people who are just looking, and then enter a shopping plaza and shop for swimsuits and accessories for their day at the beach. There Hiromi finds a ring that would accompany her swimsuit perfectly and attempts to raise the money herself to buy the ring before the store closes at 9pm. Hiromi barrows the borrowed phone from her friend as she attempts to find enough money through compensated dating, or paid dinners, really, to buy the ring.

The squeezed aspect ratio visually conveys Hiromi's emotions about her friendships.

Things get out of hand, though, when Tokyo’s sexual underworld interrupts Hiromi’s goal as she gets tangled in a mess of increasingly compromising situations the more she tries to hold onto her vision of her friends. The films bold visual motifs and calming music flow seamlessly, yet also overwhelmingly throughout the film, with the director picking key points in the script to flesh out certain ideas or thoughts the situation would allow to be explored. The editing styles are also very forward and unconventional, as the film uses them to really bring to light the emotions of each scene. As the situations become more compromising, Anno chooses to not show any nudity, proving that the most uncomfortable visuals are more effective if they are conjured by the audience themselves. There really isn’t anything bad I can say about this film, and that in it of itself is a rarity. Usually I have some small gripe about pacing or techniques that have been under-realized, but not in this case. Every part of this film is dripping with perfection and clear thinking throughout the entire piece. The visuals are strong and powerful, the music is enthralling, and the characters are visceral and poignant.

Anno even uses every motif, from trains to nails to clothing and character beats, to it’s fullest. Even every bit of the actors’ blocking is important to the film’s story-telling. And none of these techniques ever feel forced or fake. Anno uses all of these techniques to exercise his really keen grasp of getting inside Hiromi’s head as she makes her decisions throughout the day, leaving the audience emotionally wrung out by the end of the picture.

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About Stefan D. Byerley
Stefan D. Byerley is an independent filmmaker and freelance visual artist currently residing in North Carolina. He likes detailed storytelling, intriguing imagery, massive bloody violence, crying at the movies, and long walks in the park during the Autumn season.

5 Responses to Love & Pop

  1. Brilliant review. I might approach the film from a more thematic/narrative perspective when I write about it in Spotlight on Japan (will most certainly leave a link to this review in that case, since I won’t have more to say about its form).

    • Stefan D. Byerley says:

      Thanks! I probably would have gone into greater detail about the movie by writing an analysis for it similar to the way I did for Evangelion 1.11, but the analysis I’m writing for 2.22 has officially worn me out from any such endeavor.

      I should probably watch some of Anno’s other live-action works, though hear his Cutie Honey was about as campy as Schumacher’s Batman & Robin.

      • Comparing Cutie Honey to Batman & Robin is … just wrong. B&R is just a turd, but Cutie Honey is actually very funny and entertaining. Anno doesn’t hold back at all and just gloriously overdoes every aspect even though the budget wasn’t big. It’s not a great film, but it’s something I could rewatch at any moment.

  2. C.A.P. says:

    Personally, I agree with the author of Eva Otaku back when the movie was first released that, although it’s a very earnest film, Anno got a little too exhilarated with the freedom he had from the limitation of animation during the first act or so of the movie, so as a result, the film will probably give people wrong impressions if they ever do decide to watch the film out of curiosity (it happened with me). But when the film got going (it’s was around the squished perspective was when I realized this movie was more than it was), it’s suddenly becomes obvious that Anno never lost his touch on why we find him so appealing as a director, and I say he made the brief jump to live action pretty well considering the limitations he placed himself for seemly personal reasons (Frank Tashlin he’s not!). I mean, I give him props for pulling off a rape sequence and somehow making that emotionally powerful rather than frighting; a lesser director would of probably done it for the shock value, but it’s obvious Anno thought better than that and decided use the shock to help establish the tone of the film at that point, rather than thrill the audience for a brief moment.

    • Stefan D. Byerley says:

      Well, even in the first act of the movie one can see why he placed the camera where he did upon second or third viewing. But you’re right in that it it does throw off the first-time viewer. Especially if one watched it merely out of curiosity. I’m almost pretty sure that was the point: to make audiences focus on certain aspects of the character’s sexuality (P.O.V. FROM under the skirt?), then use the character development as a reason to unnerve the audience as the sexual underworld creeps up on the character. The sompressed image seems to mark the mid-point scene where these tides star to turn in the other direction. Regardless as to why the first act was shot the way it was, I really enjoyed this movie as a whole and how all of it’s pieces interacted with one-another.

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