Linda Linda Linda; slice of life done good

While I’m fairly confident that I’ve built up some decent knowledge of anime over the past few years, I can’t say the same for Japanese live action. Sure, I’ve watched many of the cult classics; Audition, Azumi, Battle Royale, Ringu, to name but a few, and there’s no denying that they are cool movies (albeit enjoyed mostly for their superficial excesses), but what I’m looking out for are the understated dramas, the good movies that don’t have to rely on violence, ghosts or samurai to attract attention. Movies like Ping Pong, Blue Spring and Go. May be it’s just that I’m not looking in the right places, but so far, I’ve found it really hard to get good recommendations for these kind of films, yet I’ve adored what I’ve seen enough to know that I really want to see more, so when someone throws me a bone in this area, I’m happy to go chasing. And guess what? I’m so glad I did. Introducing Linda Linda Linda.

These days, we’re so saturated with media that it’s fairly rare to start a movie without having read even so much as a plot synopsis, yet so it was for my introduction to this movie; all I was going off of was a personal recommendation and a decent IMDB rating, everything else was irrelevant. Anyway, the film is best described as a very Japanese slice of life, focused on a quartet of school girls who create a rock band for their fast-approaching school festival. That’s it. The plot is undeniably thin on twists and turns, quite unspectacular and straight-forward, but this movie isn’t about story, it’s about characters, a group of friends hanging out together, practicing music, and looking out for each other. Its some parts funny, charming and heart-warming, others reflective, nostalgic and introspective. Some of my favourite scenes involve the girls just wandering through grassy fields and hanging out on empty roof-tops, laughing and joking and singing, doing nothing of note, just being together, being young. It’s a movie about friendship.

One character in particular is worthy of note. She’s a Korean exchange student (called ‘Son’, played by actress Bae Doona) who can’t speak (or even understand) Japanese well. Son doesn’t have any friends and spends most of her time bored, with no-one but a bilingual teacher for company. She falls into the band almost by mistake, yet finds herself at its very center – as the singer.
Because her grasp of the language is so basic, she has to practice alone, for hours, at the local karaoke bar, just to keep up with the others, and through all of that hard graft, her funny personality gradually blossoms. She goes from being the alienated foreigner, almost completely isolated, to having found some intimate friends, staying up all night and goofing off. You can see just how much it all means to her; her happiness is scrawled all over her beaming smile.

It’s a warmly nostalgic take on youth and, much like Honey & Clover, there’s a very clear sense that this is an ephemeral era, knowingly short-lived, passing-by too fast. Towards the end of the film, one of the girls (the drummer, played by Aki Maeda) carefully plans to confess her love to a long-held crush. Everything is right about the scene; it’s pouring with rain, they are all alone, the guy is shielding her with his umbrella, but when the moment of truth comes, the girl still can’t find the courage in her heart to explain her feelings, and so, nothing happens. Often times, that’s the way it goes. Besides, there is always tomorrow.

Author: bateszi

A huge bloody nerd. I apologise in advance. I live in Cambridge, England. That's not an excuse, by the way.

27 thoughts on “Linda Linda Linda; slice of life done good”

  1. I think I liked this movie even more than H&C. The actresses convinced me that the characters they were playing really did bond and enjoy each others’ company. I think it took me a while to get the song out of my head too.

  2. I have become san Asian cinema fan in the last years, and I can recommend quite a few great movies. Be it black and white classics or modern day drama, there’re true pearls among them. Some random recommendations:

    Cure – one of my favorites. Acting is top notch and the slow paced style of filming really draws you in.
    Nobody knows – about a few kids living in the big city, neglected by their mother. Another slow paced one, but that’s what I love about Japanese cinema.

  3. I immediately detected a ‘Beck’-esque atmosphere to the premise of this one but TBH I’m always looking out for a good movie recommendation. Sadly the fansub circuit doesn’t cater for much Japanese live-action apart from the anime and manga adaptations that many of us are already familiar with. It sounds like something I’d enjoy though – looking at the filmographies of the actresses involved (something I always like to do in character-driven movies) I’m surprised to see some familiar names. Bae Do-na was in Sympathy for Mr Vengeance for instance, and Aki Maeda’s performance in BR still leaves me amazed. Suffice to say you’ve made me really want to see this now!

    In terms of other Japanese movies outside the likes of Takashii Miike and Akira Kurosawa, I don’t think I’ve seen as many as I’d like either. Yoji Yamada’s two historical romance/dramas Twilight Samurai and Hidden Blade are excellent; Tony Takitani, Jun Ichikawa’s adaptation of the Haruki Murakami short story, is one of the most poetic and beautiful movies I’ve ever seen – so perfect it’s almost painful. Hideaki Anno’s done a few forays into live-action of course, but Love & Pop was somewhat uncomfortable viewing and Shiki Jitsu is so immersive it made me question my own sanity!

    All About Lily Chou-Chou has been on my ‘to watch’ list for what seems like forever…Play.com seem to be selling it cheap though so I might take the plunge come next payday and post my thoughts on it.

  4. You did this movie some justice. Instantly one of my favorites and I’ve seen so many J-movies, its ridiculous (me and my friends like to watch one a week or so at school. And I’ve seen all the ones you’ve mentioned in the beginning. Love Ping Pong.).

    A movie that I just discovered and was fantastic was Summer Time Machine Blues, another slice of life-ish story with a hint of time travel.

  5. Thanks for all the recommendations so far, guys. I really can’t get enough of this stuff, so everything you suggest is really useful. So far, I’ve got:

    1. All About Lily Chou-Chou
    2. Cure
    3. Hidden Blade
    4. Iden & Tity
    5. Nobody knows
    6. Summer Time Machine Blues
    7. Swing Girls
    8. Tony Takitani

    @Baka-Raptor: Darn tootin’. The movie hinges on her performance.

    @Anna: When you say H&C, you talking about the live action movie? There’s so many different versions now. I’ve only seen the anime (and loved it to pieces), but heard some not so good things about the live action variants. I wouldn’t mind sampling the Yoko Kanno soundtrack though!

    @Enn: I’ve added those two movies to the list. When I sat down to watch this, I pretty much realised that more than being just a fan of anime, I really adore the Japanese style of storytelling. Almost everything, from the use of the camera to the soundtrack, works for me. May be it’s to do with the ‘slowness’ you described, the very methodical and progressive characterisation?

    @Martin: With you being such a big music buff and all, I’m fairly confident you’ll love this. Beck is an apt comparison, though it’s a little more feminine and introspective.

    @Os: Thanks for the recommendation. That’s probably the coolest film title ever, and it sounds like it could match up with “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” pretty well too.

    @ome: Again, thanks for offering your advice. Duly noted. I really want to watch as much of this stuff as I can get.

    Anyone else got recommendations? Please speak-up! :)

  6. @Bateszi: that’s exactly what I’m drawn to as well. The Japanese find beauty in what Western filmmakers would often consider redundant. In Cure, Nobody Knows and loads of other Japanese/Asian movies, a movie doesn’t consist out of of key moments stringed together in a predictable fashion; it’s often takes time watching a protagonist walk about while doing chores. These movies often leaves interpretation to the viewer, ask them to invest attention and empathy, instead of offering a cliché and explicitly defined package of emotion. There’s more of a documentary type of feel to it, because of which I don’t categorize a scene, I watch it and let it have full impact.

  7. Paul, glad you enjoyed the film. It’s given me a buzz to think someone’s taken a flyer partly on my recommendation and been glad they did. Nice write up too, summed up the movie perfectly.

    Seeing you’re after more recommendations I’ll back up Enn’s suggestion of ‘Nobody Knows’, and I’ll add ‘Eureka’, a film by Shinji Aoyama. Eureka sounds daunting as it’s not far shy of 4 hours long, is slow paced, has minimal dialogue and is shot in sepia, but I managed to watch it in one uninterrupted sitting. Both of those are available in UK R2.

  8. Just finished Linda Linda Linda, enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for doing an article on it, wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.

    Would anyone here know a good website for buying Asian DVD’s (that ships to the Netherlands)? I managed to find a decent LLL torrent, but I’d like a DVD of it now and some of the other mentioned titles too. ‘Eureka’, in particular, sparked my interest.

  9. Enn, I’ve bought a few DVD’s from cdjapan.co.jp and they have been excellent, although not exactly cheap as you’d probably expect. Some good things about them are that they do make it clear if a movie has English subs, they package things very securely and quite beautifully (very Japanese), PayPal is a payment option and they have excellent package tracking on the dearer shipping options – oh, and they ship to anywhere in the world!

    YesAsia.com is apparently good also, but I’ve not used them yet myself. They also state clearly whether films have English subs.

    However, I don’t think LLL is available from Japan with English subs, so (unless you speak Japanese of course) there is only the US R1 release by Viz.

    Eureka is available both in the UK and from Japan with subs. Swing Girls (which I love – it’s the ultimate feel good film!) is only available from Japan but thankfully has English subs.

  10. @Enn: I’m glad you liked the movie, it has a nice “feel-good” vibe to it. Anyway, referencing what you said above about Japanese film-making, I read an interesting review of Linda Linda Linda on Variety. It wasn’t nice about the film; they called it “mild”, “aimless”, “lifeless” and “incident-free”. Ironically, that’s exactly what I love about it (and Japanese cinema in general). It’s often “aimless” and “incident-free” because, as you put it, the “documentary type of feel” reflects human reality; and typically, our lives aren’t filled with incident after incident. That’s why it’s called slice of life, after all, and like you, that’s why I love this brand of Japanese cinema, it reflects certain, very human truths.

    @Harkins: Not partly on your recommendation, all on it! :) And thanks, I’ll note “Eureka” along with the rest. One film I’ve seen mentioned a lot is “strawberry shortcakes” from 2006, so that might be another one worth tracking down; seems like a spiritual successor to the likes of Linda and (I still haven’t seen, but will soon) Swing Girls. Anyway, thanks again for the great tips. By the way, where do you get your recommendations from?

  11. @Batezi: I was referring to the H&C live-action. ^_^

    I think the other live-action movies recommended are a good bunch. I haven’t heard about a few of them myself, so this post has probably done a lot of good to spur interest in other Japanese movies that aren’t necessarily based on an existing anime/manga series.

  12. @Harkins: thanks for the help, I’m keeping these in mind. Good thing they’re clear about the subtitles too, I hate emailing semi-interested helpdesk employees about what spoken and subtitled languages to expect.

    @Bateszi: very true. I’d like to add that elements of this Asian style of filming make other types of movies (non slice of life) better too. While I’m no particular action fan (except for martial arts classics), I really liked “Infernal Affairs”, a Chinese mafia thriller trilogy. It’s a mainstream action movie, but there’s still so much beauty in it. Compared to it’s American remake “The Departed” it’s a perfect metaphor for the striking contrast between two mindsets: IA has nuance to it, takes it time telling a story, presents the good-bad balance as the huge grey area it is and leaves complex ambiguous emotions what they are: complex and ambiguous. TD has big names, a flashy trailer, loads of swearing, a (horribly) dumbed down story and predictable, prototyped characters. Bah.

  13. hmm. i recently watched Linda Linda Linda myself but wasn’t quite so amused. While i do enjoy that particularly japanese style of deadpan filming, Linda Linda Linda overall felt disjointed to me. I guess i wanted more narrative, and the filming style which seemed to present bits and pieces of everyday life standalone-scene-by-scene as opposed to having an overarcing story left me wanting more depth in the characters.That said, the song was stuck in my head for weeks after.

    I recommend you watching a movie called “After Life” (japanese Wonderful Life, though. while it does have the same sort of detached manner, it does manage to weave together a narrative quite nicely. It also happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. Also try “Nobody Knows” (dare mo shinai) by the same director. As a movie it’s a bit slow but it will break your heart.

  14. That’s fair enough, Celeste. I think it definitely meanders, but that’s kind of what I liked about it too. Often, I feel like I can read more into the characters in films like this, where, ostensibly, nothing happens, yet under the surface, they are having to ask themselves some very important questions. It’s an acquired taste though, and everyone relates to things in different ways.

    Oh, and “After Life” sounds great (the premise is especially interesting). This director seems quite highly rated, as both this and “Nobody Knows” have been well received.

  15. Speaking of live action, and you may have already seen it, and it’s Korean instead of Japanese… but you might really like 3-Iron (Bin-jip). I still think about it 3 years after having watched it. Magical.

  16. @okiru14: Thanks, sounds fascinating. Just looking it up now, unfortunately my knowledge of Korean cinema is limited to Park Chan-wook, but I’ll definitely be watching this.

  17. After watching Linda Linda for the first time, I’ve been watching it over and over again for the past 2 days. I love every scene on this movie. Some says its a slow pace movie and wished the director cut half hour of it. I say the director did a good job. In fact at the end of the movie, you will feel you want more. DVD extra features dont give you any of this. I wish they put more extra footage and the making of this movie. I want to know how the actresses learned to play their intsruments. The 3 featured soundtrack on this movie is awesome. True after watching this movie you will not stop hamming them. lol . Linda Linda Linda is now one of my top favorite movie of all time.

  18. hi, stumbled upon this blog, lol. anyway…

    Hana to Arisu (slice of life)
    happy life (korea, but original idea + superb music)
    Taste of tea (you’ll love this 100%)
    once upon a time in high school (korea, fight+slice of life. nothing too brutal)
    69 (japan(not Thai) art-house road movie)

    and not so slice of life, but still a great japanese movie
    Kamikaze girls (2004)

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