Named after the group of seven teens who amassed an incredible stash worth $3 million by burgling the homes of several celebrities (notably Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson, Orlando Bloom, Megan Fox and Lindsay Lohan) over a period stretching from October 2008 to August 2009, Sofia Coppola’s buzz film THE BLING RING hits this year’s TOKYO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL with a bang.

Beloved by many Japanese people, Coppola has garnered much love and attention in Japan after her success with LOST IN TRANSLATION and later MARIE ANTOINETTE, and she’s back in town to pitch her latest movie.

Gracing the green carpet the day before, joined by her father Francis Ford Coppola and mother Eleanor, she now seems delighted to be introducing her film to the Japanese crowds ahead of the festival screening. The film is premiering in Japan quite late on in the film’s festival and release run, our team having caught it earlier in the year at EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, but that doesn’t seem to bother the crowds who are ecstatic to see her in the flesh.

Tickets for the Tokyo screening impressively sold out in 6 minutes, the TIFF interviewer informs Coppola. Asked what inspired her interest in the subject matter, Coppola replies: “When I read the real story, it was so extreme… I thought it said so much about contemporary culture that the story couldn’t have happened ten years ago, and I was thinking about how different it must be to be a teenager today than when I was growing up… I wanted to look at this part of our culture.

About the research process, Coppola goes on to say: “I got to meet some of the real kids that were involved, the detective, and the journalist who covered the story. A lot of the dialogue that they say in the movie was real dialogue that the kids really said, especially in the interview scenes. It was interesting to hear their stories about it, which were very different, conflicting.”

On the topic of Emma Watson who plays Nicki, a character based closely on Bling Ringer Alexis Neiers, “I would never have thought of Emma Watson for this character because she’s so different than the girl in the movie, but I met with her and she was really wanting to play the part… I was really impressed with how she could transform herself.”

Coppola then reveals to the audience that Paris Hilton’s home was used as in the shoot, which only goes to enhance their pre-screening excitement. Indeed, Paris Hilton makes a brief cameo in the film, along with Kirsten Dunst.

Having always had unsettled feelings about LOST IN TRANSLATION after the captivating THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, unmoved by MARIE ANTOINETTE, and sorely disappointed by SOMEWHERE, we’ve been carefully tracking Coppola and her trajectory, knowing that this is at least a filmmaker who is never afraid to throw a curve ball.

THE BLING RING is right on the money, well cast, written and directed, with Coppola pulling the audience into the trivial obsessions and blind determination of the teen characters right from the start – the film begins with a break-in as Katie Chang utters the priceless “Let’s go shopping” and yet another stunning Coppola soundtrack stomps into action. By filming on location and borrowing Hilton’s home, Coppola successfully exposes the incredible excesses enjoyed by LA celebs which drive the sense of inadequacy and desperation felt by the young Bling Ringers.

Leslie Mann is spot on as Watson’s well-intentioned but utterly clueless mother, the Angelina Jolie vision board being a particularly memorable touch (“What qualities do you guys admire about Angelina Jolie?”). Although Watson has been hyped as the star of the film, it’s Chang who leads the show as fame-obsessed kleptomaniac ringleader Rebecca (based on real-life Bling Ringer Rachel Lee) who takes us on a rollercoaster of theft – wannabe LA celeb-style.

The youngsters are portrayed as suitably vacuous but not exactly loathsome, and in fact we’re left with a feeling that Coppola is hinting at something deep and disturbing in the psyche of the American public – that a society has been evolved where the ‘haves’ could easily be seen to have brought events on themselves while the ‘have-nots’ are by no means limited to a particular class. It’s clearly an area that fascinates Coppola personally, with SOMEWHERE touching on similar themes. It’s not a perfect film, some of the scenes feeling a bit loose, but this film is destined for cult teen movie status, is one of the most enjoyable and thought-provoking films of the year, and marks Coppola again as a groundbreaking force in filmmaking. Welcome back, Ms. Coppola, we’ll be following you onto your next destination.

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