Helter Skelter is psychological horror manga written and illustrated by Kyoko Okazaki which was serialised form 1995 to 1996, and later adapted into a movie starring Erika Sawajiri and directed by Mika Ninagawa in 2012. With a run-time of 127 minutes, the movie is almost a true adaptation of the manga with extravagant and colourful sets, symmetrical Wes Anderson-reminiscent shots and a haunting end.
Genre: Drama, Psychological horror
Shedding her past image from 1 Litre of Tears, Erika Sawajiri emerged from the imposed hiatus due to scandal to assume the role of Lilico (sometimes romanised as Ririko) only to go on hiatus again due the mental exhaustion of playing the character.
The plot revolves around Lilico, a top star and model who unknown to the public has undergone several surgical procedures to look the way she does. Lilico comes from an impoverished background and was brought into the world of stardom and shaped by a woman she calls ‘Mom’.
With her self-indulgent and decadent ways, Lilico makes the lives of those around her hell with her whims and fantasies. She regularly sleeps her way to the top with men she does and does not care about, makes her poor assistant Hada run around trivial chores and subjects everyone working under her to humiliating conditions. She even manipulates poor Hada and her boyfriend into sabotaging an up-and-coming model (played by Kiko Mizuhara) so as to prevent any competition.
But the world adores Lilico – she’s on every magazine, every TV show, schoolgirls gaze at her starry-eyed and she’s every man and woman’s fantasy. But the upkeep of her surgical procedures begins to take a toll on her mental and physical health. In a world which is constantly obsessed with something new, how long with Lilico stay relevant?
Parallel runs the case of an inspector investing a series of mysterious suicides and organ thefts which may be related to the clinic Lilico frequents. The movie dutifully follows the same plot as the manga, only adding an extra scene at the end…for dramatic effect only (since it serves no other purpose).
The story runs as Lilico’s search for happiness vs. her lifestyle curated out of a need for validation. But the question the manga poses is: how much can be forgiven for the sake of beauty? As we find out, quite a lot.
The Final Verdict
The cinematography is amazing, despite being the reason the film runs 20 minutes too long. Mika Ninagawa has composed every scene like a picture. Lilico’s home like her character is decorated in bright reds and glittering sequins. A completely reverse scene plays at the aquarium (in shades of blue – standing out from the entire colour palette of the films) when she comes face to face with the Inspector who warms her that she cannot hide behind her unnatural beauty for too long.
Another scene that stands out is when Lilico meets her younger sister Chiharu, in a field of yellow dandelions. Chiharu is overweight and looks nothing like her sister Lilico. This scene has the potential to show what Lilico had been before the makeup caked her up. But her friendly-turned-serious jab at Chiharu’s weight makes the other realise that Lilico is no longer the person she had been.
The art is chaotic, loose and wild. Characters all blend in and there is very little definition. This makes it hard to read, as every short haired person looks the same. But the thing is – they aren’t important to the plot! The manga is all about Lilico and her rise, fall and decline. She is described as extremely beautiful and captivating. Though the art doesn’t support it literally, Lilico still remains as the most boisterous and interesting character. There remains some aspect in the heavy eyed, bob haired character that despite its poor character style, manages to convey everything that she stands for.
Overall, the theme is the quick passage of time and trends in today’s world. Despite her efforts, Lilico loses ground and is replaced by Mizuhara’s Kozue. Kozue is Lilico’s counter point as unlike her, Kozue does not chase fame or beauty. She looks forward to a normal obscure life later and only plans on making hay while the sun shines. There is also the contrast between the public and personal life of Lilico. She is amiable on talk shows, is a versatile model and listens obediently to every word ‘Mom’ says.
Ultimately, what leads to her fall is her own downtrodden ways and treatment of others (the ones who work ON her) – but we knew that already from the manga cover – and it comes as no surprise.
But both the movie and manga end on a similar notes – that for people like Lilico, they do not disappear, rather they fester within and appear again at some place or another.
What remains unexplored in the plot – is the character development. Lilico exists as a rotten character, and throughout the 2 hours spent, we do not see her express guilt, remorse or sympathy. She exists in the role of a villain and thus suffers from what most villains do – no backstory, a motive backed by unjustified ambition and a one dimensional character. Does the mangaka aim to portay her as such, giving her only the redeeming quality of her beauty? To see how just how big an atrocity can be forgiven by a pretty face? Is this a social commentary within itself? Or is this the fault of a sordid screenwriter (Okazaki herself) who was hired for a penny to make way for Ningawa’s expensive sets? We think it’s the latter but let’s give the movie the benefit of doubt.
While the plot is quite an extreme view on the industry – it is still a delight to watch and read. Kyoko Okazaki is known to deal with raw, sensitive subject matter and this is no different with severe cases of manipulation – both sexual and mental. The story is twisted, but the plot isn’t. It’s a fairly linear explanation with little new information and developments.
Despite this, the 9-chapter manga stands out as a top tier work of Kyoko Okazaki due to the way the matter has been dealt with – it is harsh, cruel and unrelenting. Lilico is unlikable and yet pitiable. The inspector story line is also better written and provides more suspense than in the movie. The art on the coloured pages is swift and haunting.
A word before we start: laughter and screams sound very much alike.Lilico
Foxy Turips gives it 7.5 turnips out of 10! We recommend it to anyone who likes watching a two hour long montage of color curated scenes!
The movie has a 6.4/100 on IMDB with over 1600 votes.
If you haven’t seen the movie yet, decide by watching the trailer here:
Though we strongly recommend reading the manga before watching the movie for better understanding the plot (or lack thereof).
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