Linda Linda Linda Review

Linda Linda Linda is one of those films that you can try and describe to people and they tend to shrug and probably never watch it. It is very difficult to articulate why it is so good and why within the premise of a group of high school girls forming a band and playing a school festival there is a beautiful film with pathos and a deep understanding of human interaction.

Linda Linda Linda surrounds four girls and their school’s Hiiragi-sai cultural festival. Part of this festival is a chance for the students to show their musical abilities. The four girls are Kei Tachibana (Yu Kashii) on guitar, Nozomi Shiroko (Shiori Sekine) on Bass, Kyoko Yamada (Aki Maeda) on drums and Korean student Son (Du-na Bae) on vocals. The first three girls were already in a band but due to disputes and accidents they are left without a singer. They struggle to find one and eventually decide to go with the first person to walk past. Discounting a boy who walks past, deciding it has to be a girl, they see Son who they quickly recruit.

As Son’s first language is not Japanese she finds it very hard to sing the lyrics to songs, but one of the joys of the film is seeing her progress and master the songs. Considering the complex history of relations between Japan and Korea and the racism that often exists regarding Koreans living in Japan, Linda Linda Linda highlights the move away from these attitudes and also taps into the recent popularity of Korean culture weeping Japan.

They girls hunt for songs to play, deciding cover versions are the best way to go and after finding Linda Linda by The Blue Hearts on an incorrectly labelled tape they decide to play two songs by the band. The Blue Hearts were a popular pop punk band in Japan in the late 80s early 90s, often compared to The Ramones, and their style is very upbeat and guitar led. In addition to the Blue Hearts songs the score is supplied by James Iha of The Smashing Pumpkins, who creates a dreamy and naive score that beautifully complements the visual aesthetics of the film.

The majority of the film follows the band practising the Blue Hearts songs, building to their final performance, only covering the three days of the cultural festival and focusing on these four girls. Unlike a lot of high school films Linda Linda Linda accurately portrays the reality of school life, instead of manufactured drama we see the girls hanging out and just wandering about. Even when the film deals with romantic sub plots they are left hanging, without conclusions, and generally involve awkward silences and subtle glances. This is the brilliance of Nobuhiro Yamashita’s film, it is this quiet subtlety and refusal to add drama for the sake of drama that makes Linda Linda Linda so compelling.

The film is not about dramatic gestures and action, it is about about the empty moments and the empty spaces. This captures what it is to be an adolescent in high school in this in-between period in life. It is the transient, seemingly insignificant moments that make up a high school experience. One of the girls even comments that it is the moments when they are practising that really matter not the final performance. The film creates a sense of nostalgia in its authenticity that is hard to find in high school films in Western cinema.

Similar to his other films Yamashita weaves these moments through beautifully composed shots, including the use of long tracking shots rather than fast editing and a comic minimalism more akin to filmmakers such as Jim Jarmusch than someone like Tetsuya Nakashima. Unlike Yamashita’s other films, where the plots tend to meander much like the characters, Linda Linda Linda follows a linear narrative which seems, in this case, a better choice.

Yamashita appears to approach his films like the famous quote by Miles Davis, “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there”, in focusing on the non-obvious but significant moments in life and also by paying close attention to the silent moments, the fleeting subtleties that make up shared experiences.