“Being pretty is convenient, but being pretty is different than being happy.”
This single quote can sum up the entirety of Mika Ninagawa’s film adaptation of Kyoko Okazaki’s psychological horror manga Helter Skelter.
In the film, we follow the rise and (inevitable) fall of popular Japanese supermodel Liliko on her journey through the world of fame and fortune. To her fans, it appears as if Liliko is living the dream. Her level of beauty seems almost unattainable. Everyone adores her, and on the surface, she appears to have it all.
But this could not be further from the truth. The Liliko that the public sees is nothing like behind-the-scenes Liliko. In reality, which is constantly (and purposely) distorted throughout the entire film, Liliko is actually a very selfish, insecure, and vindictive person. She can’t stand the thought of having new and upcoming models take her place in society, knowing that it would make her irrelevant. She has to constantly sleep with powerful men to attain jobs, and the relationships that she actually wants to pursue, are no good for her.
A victim to full-body plastic surgery, that is quite literally rotting her body from the inside out, Liliko knows that her time will soon be up. With each day, due to many procedures from the shady plastic surgery clinic to which she goes, Liliko’s body and mind collapse in tandem. There isn’t much on (or inside of) Liliko’s body that isn’t fake.
But at least she’s pretty, right? Wrong.
On some level, Liliko knows that beauty will never be enough, no matter how much she lies to herself. Beauty is such an ephemeral concept, and not something to be pursued long-term. Deep down, Liliko knows the true nature of people. She understands that the second she stops being pretty and popular, they will desert her, despite how much they claim to love her in the moment. Everyone loves her, but they don’t even know her. And to Liliko, being forgotten by her beloved fans is comparable to death. This unhealthy relationship with her fans only leads to furthering Liliko’s addiction to make-up and plastic surgery. In her own words, “The more you do it, the more you want.”
And in the words of one of the detectives who is investigating the shady plastic surgery clinic that Liliko uses, “Youth is beautiful, but beauty isn’t youth.” (Sn: The detectives in this film are truly philosophers. They sort of provide a voice for the audience within all of the chaos, so shout out to them!) Liliko realizes this firsthand when a new, fresh-faced model, Yoshikawa Kozue appears on the scene. Liliko knows how fast trends change, and she begins to see herself being replaced in real-time. Instead of accepting this fact, she instead lashes out and orders her assistant to slash Kozue’s face. But when her assistant goes to slash Kozue’s face, she can’t go through with it. and this is most likely due to the fact that Kozue actually understands the way that the game is played. She tells Liliko’s assistant, “If you’re going to do it, do it. We’ll be forgotten. We’re machines for the processing of desires. Desire doesn’t care. It just keeps on with another name and face.”
This could not be any truer in today’s society where “beauty” is something that can be easily obtained via an assortment of methods, including makeup, plastic surgery, camera filters, and more. Nowadays, beauty is something that one only needs to work hard at. You don’t have to be born with it. You just need a little money. And despite all of her issues in pursuing beauty, Liliko still encourages her younger sister to lose weight and get plastic surgery in order to survive in society. (You hate to see it.)
Even the detective understands the fragility of Liliko’s beauty, when he states, “Her beauty is a montage of images. The sum total of our desires. She beats her wings in the way that we want, even if she can only do that by losing her own feathers.” Liliko has zero control over her own life. Her manager tells her what to do, what to eat, and even what to throw back up. She created Liliko as a sort of project, to relive her youth, and the resemblance to her younger self is quite undeniable. She even reminds Liliko that she made her, and instead of helping Liliko in her downward spiral, she often adds fuel to the fire by enabling her to cope with unhealthy mechanisms, like drugs and alcohol.
When Liliko finally has a public breakdown after taking too many drugs on set one day, she ruins her image, and realizes that there isn’t a way to come back from it. Her days of relentless people pleasing finally comes to an end, as all of her secrets are made public, and her fans realize that her once unattainable beauty is actually quite attainable. They realize that with some plastic surgery, they too could look like Liliko. They call her fake and abandon her, like she knew that they would, and that is what pursuing beauty gets you. A fleeting feeling of love and adoration, that eventually ends when a fresher face appears on the scene, A.K.A. a bad investment.
When Liliko has her public breakdown, no one is actually there for her, despite the millions of people who claimed to love her up until the event. Her time runs out, and with it, her status in society, as well. The movie opens with a quote, “Laughing sounds a lot like screaming,” and this is very apparent, since despite the large number of people she has around her, no one ever truly takes the time out to see how Liliko is doing: to see whether or not she is actually laughing or screaming. Something that could have perhaps saved her life…
If you’re looking for a movie that will take you on a trip, Helter Skelter is the one to watch. It’s a very bizarre, yet realistic take on the dark side of celebrity culture. It shows us that the grass is never greener, and makes us appreciate the things that we have going on in our own lives a little bit more. It’s a bit frightening how people’s minds work, and how quickly they move from one trend to the next. In a world like this, it is prudent to realize whom you really are, instead of mindlessly following trends, for you will quickly lose yourself, and with it, your happiness, too.
This movie has a lot of teachable moments in it, and I would hope that anyone pursuing this sort of lifestyle quickly comes to grips with themselves before they reach their inevitable demise, much like Liliko. It should serve as a big warning to anyone out there struggling to find themselves in this world. The world is a very noisy and chaotic place, but when you are finally able to turn all of the chaos down, the true you will be waiting. Find them, for you owe it to yourself.