Mika Ninagawa’s 2012 Japanese horror flick, Helter Skelter, literally bleeds style while telling the story of Lilico (Erika Sawajiri), a popular Japanese idol who descends into madness as her fame is threatened by the decay of her body, another rising star and investigations into the practise of the cosmetic surgery responsible for her image. Ninagawa, primarily a photographer, packs this film with vivid colours, intricate settings and costumes and artfully arranged cinematography.
Ninagawa uses colour in props, setting and costume to define Lilico’s character to the audience; when Lilico is seen during her fashion shoots and public appearances high-key lighting is generally used, and Lilico is shown wearing and surrounded by a multitude of bright colours, reflecting her public image as a fun, bubbly and beautiful young idol. This is strongly contrasted by the appearance of Lilico’s apartment, a key setting of the film, which is mainly shot in low-key lighting, signifying Lilico’s hidden dark side.
Lilico’s apartment and her outfits are dominated by the colour red, the colour signifying lust, danger and blood, which reflects Lilico’s psychotic, perverted personality, as she sexually takes advantage of her doting assistant, Hada, and manipulates Hada and her boyfriend into attacking those she views as rivals, as well as signifying her bloody end.
Many shots in this film are arranged to be perfectly symmetrical, symbolising the emphasis on symmetry and perfection in the fashion and modelling industry which drove Lilico to use of full-body cosmetic surgery. For example, multiple shots into Lilico’s bathroom from the corridor use this symmetry, as well as a scene where Lilico hosts a press conference as is surrounded by microphones. Photos of Lilico are carefully and symmetrically arranged into a diamond on her wall, possibly signifying her vanity.
Props, specifically clocks, are used throughout the film to reflect the theme of beauty fading with time, notably Lilico hallucinates that a red and white clock suddenly begin spinning rapidly as she has a breakdown on live television. Christian imagery is also used in Lilico’s apartment, with many statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary throughout her home and a cross hanging on her mirror, potentially symbolising how models are elevated and worshipped, particularly idols in Japanese culture, almost like religious icons. Paintings of Jesus and Mary are also shown in Lilico’s bathroom with the eyes blacked out, symbolising Lilico’s sinful life.
Helter Skelter is a visually stunning and narratively gripping film, and I highly recommend seeing it.
Andrew Sheller is a Media Production student at Coventry University. You can see more content from Andrew at their Facebook page through this link.