Moving Pictures
Jun 14, 2011, 08:01AM

Panties, Noodles and Decapitation

The repulsive elegance of Psycho Gothic Lolita.

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The most disturbing scene in Psycho Gothic Lolita is not any of the numerous decapitations. Nor is it the death-by-parasol-drill, where our hero Yuki (Rina Akiyama) grinds her whirling parasol into some poor schlub begging for mercy, sending ground up bits of him flying every which way in a wet hail of internal bits. Nor is it the gruesome crucifixion of Yuki’s mother.

No, the most viscerally unpleasant part of the film comes almost right at the beginning, where we are forced to observe, in extreme close-up, some hired stooge noisily and endlessly guzzling at a bowl of noodles while simultaneously smoking a cigarette. The filmmakers linger lovingly on the wet, vile slurping noises for what seems like an hour before they cut away… and then, just to let you know they really mean it, they cut back and he’s still eating the damned noodles! When he’s finally disemboweled, it feels less like gore than like a generous hat-tip to common decency.

The repulsive noodle-slurping has no real connection to the story’s plot. It’s a random touch, which feels more like a surreal art film flourish than like a genre exploitation trope. But that’s the reason to love genre exploitation crap—or at least, genre exploitation crap like Psycho Gothic Lolita. Freed from the tyranny of coherent plot or character construction, a lowest common denominator gore fest is committed to nothing but the next spectacularly vile gimmick.

In true art film fashion, almost every element of the narrative in Psycho Gothic Lolita left dangling. Is Yuki’s father a priest, or does he just dress like that because he thinks it’s kind of cool? Why exactly does Yuki wear a gothic Lolita outfit, all leather frills, black lace, and deadly parasol-blade? Why was Yuki’s mom killed? Even the sequence in which we see the actual murder is not so much the emotional core of the film as an imagistic romp. The tragedy occurs in an undefined, white-lit non-space, where the perfect, sugary angelic harmony is invaded by evil black robed figures. The over-the-top symbolism of violation revels in its own exaggerated clichés.

Psycho Gothic Lolita goes right through genre and ends up in vertiginously pure filmmaking. Image and idea are manifestly the most important things, and director Ohara Go never lets logic distract him for a moment from the next shiny, shimmery set piece. Perhaps the high point is Yuki’s battle with a gang of thugs who inexplicably take time out to perform a cheerleading routine (“K-A-M-I-K-A-Z-E…Kamikaze!”), but really every scene pretty much wanders off down unexpected and ludicrous byways. One fight involves a yogi swooping around through a gym with a mop and ends with a mystical wind giving us a gothic Lolita panty shot; another features an insane schoolgirl who keeps chatting with her boyfriend on the cell phone built into her gun. The choreography is sublimely ridiculous, taking advantage of the limited production values to add a touch of charming amateur grit. In one deadly standoff, for example, you can see Yuki visibly wavering as she tries to hold her position, her extended parasol-gun drifting back and forth. You could say it emphasizes her vulnerability, I suppose, but really it seems less about character and more about the kinetic imperfection of the motion itself.

I think many viewers might look at those imperfections, the plot holes, the genre stupidity, the gore-filled pandering, and place Psycho Gothic Lolita in the so-bad-it’s-good category—a campy romp to laugh at rather than with. I’d argue that it’s not good because it’s stupid or a failure. But it’s good because it’s imaginative and weird and refuses to be distracted from its own particular vision of decapitations, killer parasols, the occasional improbable panty shot, and eating noodles. Like gothic Lolita fashion itself, the film is so studiously flamboyant that it attains elegance.

—Read more Noah Berlatsky at hoodedutilitarian.com.


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