Just like the Phoenix Wright movie prioritised aesthetics over refinement in script and pacing, the Japanese film Helter Skelter (へルタースケルター) suffered much of the same problem.

Warning: MAJOR SPOILERS. (This is a M15/R-rated movie with explicit scenes and not suitable for children)

Images from Tumblr. Click the picture for link to the original poster. 

Trailer (Japanese only)

It was an aesthetically beautiful movie. You could really see the director’s fashion photography background in play, in the vivid red and blue lighting, the eclectic set design, the unusual angles and really interesting shots and sound effects.

Unfortunately, the movie suffered a lot of script and pacing issues and there wasn’t enough depth to sustain a two-hour movie. There was certainly potential for more depth and for the movie to be a lot more powerful, but it felt like, on the whole, the director passed up those opportunities.

The story, essentially, was about watching an already twisted, broken, defeated girl experience more brokenness, without any significant character development or progression. It sort of breaks the first rule of narratives, but not in a good way. Either you start by seeing a seemingly perfect person and build up to a big breakdown with small episodes along the way, or you try a redemption storyline.

There were a lot of gratuitous montages that could have been cut short, especially as the dramatic crying/screaming freak-outs never really varied in tone or execution.

A lot of the characters could have been explored in more depth. Hada’s relationship with Ririko could have been a lot more sinister and multi-layered, if the movie had explored more of Hada’s life. It was especially confusing because Hada’s beginning scene with Shin (who we all thought was her son at first) seemed to suggest she wasn’t enchanted at all by Ririko. Maybe show more about her low self esteem, the slow build-up of her obsession and focus more on why she decided then, after doing so much for Ririko, to ‘destroy' her.

Kiko was gorgeous but her character didn’t really add much to the story. She was too omniscient, too apathetic (if she knew the reality of the business and was so disenchanted by it, why does she continue...?) Her rise to replace Ririko was too predictable and immediate. Certain scenes highlighted Kiko's role as a foil to Ririko, but not enough. I loved the contrast between Ririko’s freakout at the TV set to Kiko's calm Pocky eating.

I was honestly expecting Ririko’s little sister to not know she had done plastic surgery, but their relationship honestly seemed like a very supportive one and it was weird that Ririko was all ‘there’s no one who cares about me!’ when clearly she at least has a sister who cares about her...? I wish they had explored Ririko's family in more depth.

I really didn’t like the omniscient lawyer guy who was basically the exposition mouthpiece. Not sure why he suddenly knew everything about Ririko (including how to get under her skin in 2 minutes), or how he became her hallucinatory ‘conscience’ at the end before she goes to the press conference.

Some scenes were horrifying graphic, like Ririko getting more surgery. This seemed to be at odds with some super cheesy special effects (that was the worst CG butterfly I’ve seen in a long time and the RED FEATHERS. They don’t have to be so literal).

The ending really annoyed me. I loved the shot where the cameras were flashing, the brief lull and then the flashes resuming – it really said a lot about the whole news cycle and the idea that it fed off everything, but especially the bad. The director choosing to explicitly show Ririko's eye and the fake blood really cheapened the whole scene.

There were several ‘false’ endings, which really killed the momentum. Many scenes would have had a significant impact if they’d been cut short, but they were dragged on for ages, like the slow-mo falling into red feathers scene, which should have just been cut altogether.

I honestly thought the movie would end with the lawyers and the (nice) idea that she had ensured she’d continue to survive in the public eye by making herself a legend. M and I agreed it would have made more sense for her to disappear when the newspeople were knocking on her door, rather than in front of everyone at the press conference, but it would have sufficed.

The (very) last scene with Kiko really…didn’t add anything, especially since we’d already seen the eye stab in explicit detail.  You either have her stab her eye off-screen and then show her with a patch or you don't need to show the patch at all.

I loved the opening quote – ‘laughter and screams sound very much alike’. I would have loved if the movie ran with that. I can just imagine Ririko laughing and being super happy every time you expect her to cry, until the climactic breakdown scene where she cries for real. There was definitely potential for a more nuanced exploration of emotion than what the movie gave us.

Overall, the movie lacked focus and depth where they were needed and, in doing so, reduced the emotional and dramatic impact. It touched on some deeper issues, like society's obsession with 'celebrity', the tenuous nature of popularity and its connection to self worth, the idea that 'you are confident because you are beautiful' (which was deconstructed in Ririko but not in Kiko's character...?) and the damaging consequences on the individuals seeking to attain perfection and love from strangers, but didn't really deliver as much as I might have hoped it would.

It was certainly not a happy movie, though devastatingly beautiful, and maybe that sums up Ririko's journey as well.