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  • Benjamin May

Love & Pop (1998) Review

Hiromi is your everyday Japanese schoolgirl nearing the end of her time in high school. Her three best friends all have a direction in their lives and know what they're going to do next. Hiromi isn't so sure. In fact, all she's sure of is that she wants a ring; an expensive, bejeweled one. Alongside her pals, she engages in enjo-kosai, or compensated dating, in order to pay for it. For a while, things go smoothly, and she begins gathering the required cash. However, as Hiromi starts going on dates alone, she is exposed to the seedier, more perverted reality of life; from which she may never be able to escape.


Based on Ryu Murakami's story 'Topaz,' Hideaki Anno's 'Love & Pop' is an interesting, affecting movie that shines a spotlight on an uncomfortable aspect of Japanese society: the predilection among many for underage girls. For whatever reason, the mini-skirted, pig-tailed schoolgirl is an immensely popular image in Japan, on grounds both innocent and sordid. Much like Masato Harada did with his 'Bounce Ko Gals' one year before, 'Love & Pop' offers a disquisition on those attracted to the underaged, as well as criticizing the system of enjo-kosai as a dangerous one indifferent to the wellbeing of the girls involved. Additionally, the film could be seen as a critique of the rise of consumerism in Japan, and how anything and everything- even schoolgirls- are products that can be bought for the right price.

Anno's tale- written with Akio Satsukawa- is also a character study about a young person unsure of their future, which many will surely identify with. Hiromi does not have a particularly caring family; they aren't overtly aggressive, merely indifferent. She has no one to get advice from, bar her three school chums, and no real adult influence. Her descent into the world of enjo-kosai is a distressing one, but one that seems realistic and inevitable after seeing the lack of guidance Hiromi has in her life.


'Love & Pop' is shot by Takahide Shibanushi, and his cinematography is striking and unorthodox. Using handheld cameras, fish-eye lenses and shifting aspect ratios, his work gives the film a strange, otherworldly feeling- almost like it's some kind of bizarre documentary, or a dream. It also effectively highlights the eerie, sinister nature of the world of the enjo-kosai, and how Hiromi doesn't belong there. The stylizations may be overblown and gimmicky on occasion- such as the repeated use of a toy train as a dolly- but mostly feels fresh, original and most fitting for the story.

The film also features a fine, emotive score from Shinkichi Mitsumune. A composer who deals primarily with animated features, Mitsumune's work for 'Love & Pop' is reserved and mournful, whilst also being pleasing to the ear. Less impressive is Hiroshi Okuda's editing, which feels rather lacking and slapdash. Though the film has a good, steady pace, some scenes go on just that little bit too long, becoming awkward and losing impact. The film's tone is also hard to pin down, as the proceedings sometimes feel farcical (particularly in the first half), sometimes dramatic and then downright frightening near the end. It's a difficult one to define- though that's not necessarily a bad thing.


'Love & Pop' stars Asumi Miwa as Hiromi, who plays the part very capably. Introverted, naïve and slightly self-centered, she is a profoundly realistic cinematic creation. Miwa is not afraid to make her ever so slightly boring, which makes her all the more real; and her unaffected, naturalistic performance is impressive. Of the supporting cast, Toru Tezuka and the great Tadanobu Asano stand out most memorably. Tezuka plays Uehara, a seemingly harmless creep who takes Hiromi to a video store, and Asano plays the mysterious Captain E, an eccentric who may not be as benevolent as he initially appears. Both men give intense, unsettling performances that linger in the mind long after the credits have rolled.

Hideaki Anno's 'Love & Pop' is a strange, sad film about loneliness, perversion and a young girl in trouble. Featuring a fine screenplay from Anno and Akio Satsukawa, the film is as unpredictable as it is affecting (even though the editing could be tightened up a tad). With strong performances from the cast and stylish visuals from Takahide Shibanushi, 'Love & Pop' is an insightful trip to the outskirts of dignity that is unpretentious, unnerving and unforgettable.

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