helter skelter

I don’t watch movies nowadays (especially at the cinema), but I do enjoy Japanese movies. I’m not being bias here and I’ll say that I have watched a Japanese movie or two which sucked. I like thought-provoking movies, the kind that would make me want to share my thoughts/opinion…like now. *Note: There may be a few spoilers in my commentary.

ヘルタースケルタ (Helter Skelter) is a film adapted from a manga series about uber fabulous supermodel Ririko (played by Sawajiri Erika), who has the perfect body and face that every girl dreams of having. However, what those girls do not know is that Ririko is “manufactured” — every inch of her body and face except for her “eyeballs, ears and pussy” (as her manager states) is the result of plastic surgery. Of course, there is a hefty price to pay for the body and looks that every man and woman would die for, which comes in the form of treatments and medication to keep her body functioning even as it struggles to keep up. On the sidelines, an inspector is investigating a series of suicides and organ thefts that point to the shady practices of the beauty clinic that services Ririko.

More than just a film about the degeneration of a supermodel with unnatural beauty and the ethical issues involved in the cosmetic surgery industry, the movie tells the story of the insecurities of a girl who craves for attention and love, and the price she is willing to pay for it. At times I found myself feeling sorry for Ririko, she wanted to break into the fashion/entertainment world just so she could earn some money for her family, as well as receive the adoration of others. Both of which she could not have achieved with her “normal” looks. Now, throw in a unscrupulous manager who probably is milking Ririko for all she’s worth and living her own dream by using Ririko. Ririko looks up to her manager, who she calls “mama”, for advice and of course the older lady says Ririko will always be the top model. But how does one believe this woman when she introduces a new model, Kozue to the agency and the girl dethrones our queen bee almost instantly. There’s something even more suspicious about the manager when she shows the inspector a photo of her younger self which he comments “looks like Ririko”.

There’s no turning back for Ririko. The moment she underwent that full body surgery, she had set foot on a journey into a deep dark pit. Adding in her own insecurities and fear of being alone and unloved, there you have it — the perfect ride to doom. I’m not sure which “killed” her: her own insecurities and fear or the insensitive and demanding fashion/entertainment industry? Let’s examine both, starting with the latter. Ririko never owned her body. Her perfect body belonged to her manager. After all, Ririko’s body was her manager’s dream and investment. The cruel demands of the fashion/entertainment industry just made it worse. Models are forced to stay thin for the sake of survival in the industry. This is achieved by purging any consumed food that would add on to the calories. Kozue mentioned that “all models do this if not how else would they stay thin?” On one occasion, Ririko’s manager saw Ririko eating snacks and told her to purge it later.The (popularity) lifespan of a model is also unknown. One could be famous today, and then fall into the shadows of another model tomorrow as seen when Kozue joined the agency.

For dear Ririko, Kozue’s presence was a huge threat to her career and the attention she had garnered. Like Nina (played by Natalie Portman) in Black Swan, Ririko went on a downward spiral to self-destruction when she pushed herself to work harder to eliminate competition. Her mind began to fall into pieces, just like how her already fragile body could not take the pressure and was breaking down. Ririko knew her body was a ticking time bomb, but her fear of feeling unwanted trumped her fear of her body shutting down. So, nothing else mattered as she pressed on. Behind all the “forced” sweetness is a darker side of Ririko, the domineering one that controls her assistant to play out lewd acts and do ANYTHING she asks of the meek one. It makes me wonder, which is the true Ririko? The sweet and popular girl or the diva who expects all to grovel at her feet?

I think Sawajiri Erika portrayed Ririko very well. It even made me wonder if she chose to take on this role in the movie because she saw herself in the character. One can hardly forget the diva behaviour Erika displayed years ago at a press conference for another movie. Up until then, the world knew Erika as the sweet young thing who rose to fame after her portrayal of Aya in 1リットルの涙 (1 Litre of Tears). People wanted to know what happened to the sweet Erika. Why has she changed? Of course, all was forgiven when she apologised on national tv, but it seemed she was “forced” by her management to do so. Mind you, she wasn’t being unapologetic about her behaviour, just that she felt she couldn’t be herself. Perhaps then, like many other young starlets who entered the entertainment industry at a young age, she was finding it hard to express her own identity with so many societal rules imposed on her. Here’s what I think happened: sure, she was sweet Erika when she had her big break, but as the years passed, her image changed based on her current likes — something that was totally opposite of what the world knew her to be. And it was unacceptable. So, she was “forced” to remain that sweet young thing, got roles in movies which she didn’t particularly want, sang songs that she would not particularly like to sing, etc. I can only imagine the struggle within her to be someone she was not…to live according and up to other people’s dreams.

Well, this is just my opinion. It may not be the case of why she chose to star in this movie, so please don’t quote me or take this as the truth.

The movie is also a rude reminder to women who seek cosmetic surgery to enhance their beauty.  I’m not saying that all beauty clinics are shady, but for those that want it, please be aware of what you are walking into. There is no turning back after that. If it is beauty you are seeking, I will quote what Lupita Nyong’o said at Essence’s Seventh Annual Black Women in Hollywood.

You can’t eat beauty… That you will feel the validation of your external beauty but also get to the deeper business of being beautiful inside. There is no shade in that beauty.

I highly recommend watching the movie for its storyline and the play of colours that are a feast to the eyes. Be warned that there is nudity and adult scenes though.

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