Linda, Linda, Linda Review
It’s the 2004 Shibazaki High Holly Festival and preparations are underway to provide plenty of entertainment for the Autumn gathering. With three days to go until the big event guitarist Kei (Yu Kashii), bassist Nozomi (Shiori Sekine) and drummer Kyoko (Aki Maeda) find themselves stuck without a lead vocalist, having gone through a bit of a rough patch. They’ve already decided that they’ll play three songs as originally performed by the punk band The Blue Hearts, but now the race is on to find their fourth and final member. They decide that the first girl to pass them by will be the lucky participant, but when the girl turns out to be Japan-Korea culture exchange student Son (Bae Doo-na), they realise that they’re going to have quite a difficult task on their hands. Son speaks basic Japanese and struggles to get through lengthy conversations; furthermore she knows very little about music, but after an initial set back she soon finds herself joining and getting into the spirit of things. The foursome isn’t particularly skilled at playing and they acknowledge the very fact, but nothing will stop them from attempting to put on a fun show for those who have been looking forward all year to the popular festival.
Enjoying Linda, Linda, Linda doesn’t take a great deal of effort, though a little know-how toward its cultural significance certainly helps to appreciate its intent. Deriving its name from the song by seminal eighties punk band The Blue Hearts - which has remained a staple part of Japanese pop-culture, having been recently referenced through several mediums such as in Nintendo’s Osu! Tatakae Ouendan video game and Tetsuya Nakashima’s Kamikaze Girls - the film takes a piece of Japanese punk history and courses the defiant spirit of the group throughout the film’s entire run time. Using music to forge friendships and have them tirelessly fight through adversity, it not only pits four young women in a race against time, but so too does it show them in the throws of reaching maturity, where the backdrop set against a Gakuen-Sai festival (a yearly Autumnal campus event) will perhaps be the final time that they can express their feelings to those around them, under the celebratory vigil of such a momentous occasion.
I’m generally of the opinion that the Japanese make the best underdog stories in the world; despite having seen a fair amount, which are all thematically the same, in which a group of losers, as it were, dust themselves off and become local heroes, they’re always tirelessly entertaining. There’s a certain amount of verve and charm pertaining to Japanese ideals of growing up and heeding to life’s challenges in cinema and they’re never without meaning next to their social inheritance. Yet Nobuhiro Yamashita’s Linda, Linda, Linda is easily identifiable as an individual entity all to itself. This isn’t about a wannabe rock band vs. the rest of the world but far more simply a battle in which they fight only themselves. And that’s the key to Yamashita’s ultimate success story here. By using a firmly established school setting and underlining the importance of such a social event the film serves to aid the more human survivalist aspects which will mould and shape these young women into what they’ll eventually become. But neither is there a sense of urgency to move them forward in the world; for all intents Linda, Linda, Linda - as echoed through the sentiments of a school girl in the opening scene - tells us that even as we approach adulthood we shouldn’t throw away childish things and ever be afraid to retain the youngster in our hearts.
And Linda, Linda, Linda does all of this with such a happy veneer and openness; it never presents us with depressing angsty moments, but true sentiments and positive determination. Confessions of love are toyed with but never stretched beyond their purpose, while cultural exchanges are played out with the kind of sweetness we don’t all too often see these days. To say that Linda, Linda, Linda is an entirely uplifting experience would be an understatement, and no matter how long it might take Yamashita to see his girls arrive at their destination, which is a steep but breezy two hours, there’s always some form of sincerity being propelled by a tightly written and unpretentious screenplay and James Iha’s (formerly of The Smashing Pumpkins) almost hypnotic scoring.
But above all, Linda, Linda, Linda needs its diverse cast to get it through such a lengthy trial and here we have the perfect representation of four normal young schoolgirls who aren’t just mere clones of popular teen idols. Arguably Yu Kashii is the most striking of our leads; her piercing stare and well defined features sees her look uncannily like seventies exploitation icon Meiko Kaji, while Battle Royale’s Aki Maeda and Shiori Sekine (real-life bassist with Base Ball Bear in her major debut) hit that fine balance and don’t border on being overly cutesy. But the big surprise here, and no doubt the biggest gamble that Yamashita took, is with the appearance of popular South Korean actress Bae Doo-na, who manages to effortlessly hold the film together with her sweet innocence and - once she gets going - terrific vocal abilities and immense enthusiasm. The fact she speaks Japanese throughout and instils her character with the kind of appropriate mentality that’s befitting of her situation stands as a great testament to her dedication as a performer, with her simpler approach of communication coming across as being wildly infectious and most of all well suited to her environment.
The transfer for VIZ’s R1 presentation is an interlaced one, which is a bit of a shame, for an otherwise pleasant looking film. Given anamorphic treatment the 1.85:1 aspect ratio is a nicely balanced one, having incredibly natural colours, from skin tones to the surrounding environment, while contrast is evenly maintained and detail is strong with the exception of some wider shots. There’s a spot of edge enhancement and aliasing is present, but minimal.
Japanese DD2.0 is the only soundtrack option. Most of the action takes place centre stage, with the rear speakers being given very little to do, other than to slightly filter through some music; they only come alive during the final rendition of “Linda, Linda, Linda”. Otherwise dialogue is well presented up front, being clear and free from distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included and they offer a solid translation, being equally well timed and free from errors. The font is a bold yellow of good size and doesn’t prove to be distracting.
First up on the disc is Director & Cast info, which consists of a mini biography for each. Culture Tips are handy for those wishing to get a little more insight into the film, with such references toward school festivals, uniforms and lunch boxes (alright, that one isn’t particularly useful) and other emerging bands from the eighties. Now the most novel idea in the extra features is The Blue Hearts Audio FAQ. This is done by Patrick Macias, who I’m guessing is simply a big fan of the band. It consists of ten questions and selecting each one presents an audio file of Macias speaking about the band. This covers their history, their songs and the significance of “Linda, Linda, Linda”, their importance to the speaker and how they’ve influenced future bands. A very pleasant listen, which serves as a great primer for anyone wishing to check out their albums or appreciate the tone of the film. We also get the film’s teaser and theatrical trailers, while finishing up things are VIZ trailers with English narration for Linda, Linda, Linda, Kamikaze Girls, Train Man: Densha Otoko and The Taste of Tea.
There’s a real majesty to Linda, Linda, Linda, an honest approach in making a film about enjoying youth and friendship, while having such an iconoclastic band as The Blue Hearts perfectly encapsulate it sweet sentiments.