In "Linda, Linda, Linda," four high school girls in Japan pull together at the last minute to form a band to compete in the musical competition of their school’s spring festival. They decide to cover three songs by 80s pop-punk band The Blue Hearts, include the titular song, their biggest hit. They practice and practice. They perform. The end.
Ladies and gentlemen, we wept. Nobuhiro Yamashita‘s film is, in its understated, sharply observed way, one of the most joyous films about high school we’ve ever seen, one that understands that just how momentous the small-scale triumphs and dramas that make up day-to-day existence seem at that time.
Kei, Kyoko and Nozomi’s original plans for a Holly Festival performance are ruined when their guitar player, Moe, jams her finger playing basketball. Rather than give up, the fierce Kei vows to switch from keyboards to guitar and find a new vocalist. She could ask her friend Rinko, who’s played in the band with them before, but the two of them are fighting, and impulsively and as much out of spite as anything else, she asks the next person who comes along: the awkward Korean exchange student Son, who barely speaks any Japanese.
Son is lanky, shy and gawky, with no sense of social cues and a tendency to stare. She’s also totally lovable — actress Bae Du-na, of "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance," walks off with the film. Consigned to sit in an unvisited classroom with the "Japan Korea Cultural Exchange Exhibit," Son is so thrilled to be rescued from solitude, and, more, asked to join something hip, that, listening to the songs for the first time on headphones, she inadvertently starts crying.
The girls vie for practice time in the music room with the other acts, and then sneak into the school at night and rehearse until they fall asleep on the floor. Kyoko’s got a crush on a boy in her class, but the two are too shy to say anything to each other; Son gets an unexpected confession of love from another boy in hilarious attempted Korean; and all the while the festival teems around them. The film’s unhurried pacing and naturalistic style take a while to settle into, and there’s no denying it meanders a little too much in the middle, but the payoff at the end makes it all worthwhile and more.
Former Smashing Pumpkin James Iha composed the score, but it’s the satanically catchy title song that’s really memorable — we’d suggest you preemptively download it before seeing the film, as it will lodge in your head for days.
Screens June 24 and July 1 at the ImaginAsian.
+ "Linda, Linda, Linda" (NYAFF)