Review: Helter Skelter (Japan 2012)

Based on a manga by enfant terrible Kyoko Okazaki, this collaboration between photographer-turned-director Mika Ninagawa and controversial idol/actress Erica Sawajiri is a fascinating bit of Cronenbergian body horror set in the world of fashion and plastic surgery. One part Lady Gaga, one part Paris Hilton and one part Tonya Harding, Sawajiri’s Lilico is a complete monster, reconstructed by a shady clinic into the ultimate idol with, as her assistant puts it, “none of her original parts except for her eyeballs, ears and vagina.”

Sawajiri turns in an utterly fearless performance as Lilico, equally sexual and horrific – a Dorian Gray for the modern age. Ninagawa matches this outsized performance by filling the screen with lurid Technicolor imagery of Suspiria and the jittery rhythms and beats of Psycho and surrounding Sawajiri with ludicrous grotesques and overstuffed backdrops of flowers. By contrast, the “little people” Lilico abuses or blows off – her harried assistants and the police investigating the clinic – come off as impossibly drab (no small feat when they are played by the great Nao Omori of Ichi the Killer, his Vibrator co-star Shinobu Terajima and Miike regulars Sho Aikawa and Susumu Terajima, along with other luminaries). Helter Skelter might make an interesting pairing with the recent Neon Demon, which shares similar themes and techniques.

3 out of 4 Stars (Good)

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