Pain hits us all in different ways. Sometimes it aches slowly over time accumulating as the days go by. Sometimes it hits us with all the force of a baseball bat to the head. Sometimes it hits you without you ever noticing, eating you alive from the inside. When you’re at rock bottom, pain is always a companion. What you do with that pain is what defines you.
La La La at Rock Bottom has been on my mind for weeks now since I initially saw it. I just couldn’t put my feelings on this film into words because it all felt so very real. These characters, the lives they lead and the journeys that they take are all a genuine and sincere representation of a side of Japan that is all too often forgotten about it Japanese cinema – the underclass heroes who toil away and suffer under the weight of the world all the while never losing grasp of the glimmer of hope that guides them on in life.
Pooch as portrayed by real life Japanese singer and member of Kanjani Eight, Subaru Shibutani, is a man who has lost it all. Fresh out of prison he finds that even his own ‘friends’ aren’t even that anymore. After a brutal beating he is left an amnesiac, a man without a past. Knowing nothing of what had happened to him or who exactly he is, he is drawn to the sound of music from a local festival. In this moment a man with nothing finds something to hold onto, the pain inside his heart 0and he gives it a voice when he takes the microphone and begins to sing a song to the shock of the audience at the festival.
Kasumi spots his performance and decides to take him into her care. She is the manager of the band and like Pooch has her own fair share of pain weighing on her heart. Fumi Nikaido brings the emotionally torn tomboy Kasumi to life in a rather surprising break from type as a rather straight laced character with a level of emotional depth, a far cry from her starring role as the sadistic yakuza daughter in Why Don’t You Play in Hell? to say the least.
It is through these two characters that La La La at Rock Bottom explores the nature of pain and the ways in which it can manifest itself in different ways. Both Pooch and Kasumi have lost a great deal in their lives but use music as their outlet for that hurt. The only memory Pooch has is the song ‘Old Diary’ whereas Kasumi remembers her painful past all too well. It makes for a powerful dynamic and a honest relationship between these two characters that is truly sincere.
The film is paced with the deftest of touches and never goes fast enough to not fully absorb every emotional beat. It is with a slow and steady build up that La La La at Rock Bottom reaches its rewarding climax. Ultimately we are all bound to our past actions and Rock Bottom never shies away from the fact that the past cannot be erased but it does propose a hopeful alternative; that the future is still yet to be written.
Aesthetically the film is stunning in its range. Going from bleak empty streets of the wrong side of town to the bright lights of Misono Universe concert hall or the striking white on red imagery of the festival in the early parts of the film. Much like the emotional spectrum on show in the film, their is a aesthetic spectrum that hits all the same notes.
Considering this is a film focused around music, I’d be remiss not to mention the superb soundtrack of the film and the incredible vocal performance of lead Subaru Shibutani who steals the show on multiple occasions with his heart breaking rendition of the only song he remembers ‘The Old Diary’. Whether you enjoy J-Pop or not it is hard not to find yourself swept up in these plucky tunes. The film even recruits Japanese band Akainu to help with the score and they even appear as the band in the film itself. How’s that for double duty?
Emotionally raw and a truly rewarding cinema experience, La La La at Rock Bottom challenges audiences to think about their own past and the pain they have felt in life only to beckon viewers to remain positive for the future that remains to be seen. The song isn’t over just yet and with that there is reason to keep on singing.