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Friday, July 9, 2010
Entertaining tale of youth gone wrong
The seishun eiga (youth movie) is an important, long-established genre in Japanese films with no exact parallel in the West. The difference is not the theme as such — films about teenagers are hardly rare in Hollywood — but rather their numbers and angle of approach. The Japanese industry produces dozens of these films annually and even the ones that are not frankly nostalgic typically treat the high school years as a special time of life never to be repeated or, in many cases, equaled.
For one thing, the characters live with the sort of purity and freedom that often vanishes in adulthood, with its accommodations and strictures. "I peaked in high school" would be an admission of defeat for an American, but in the seishun eiga it's a often a baseline assumption, with "peak" defined in emotional rather than achievement/ status terms — that is, experiencing first love rather than winning the big game.
That's certainly true for the five woebegone heroes of actor Shun Oguri's first film "Surely Someday," who had formed a band and were about to make their big debut at their high school festival when it was suddenly canceled. Outraged, they idiotically threatened to set off a bomb in the school if the powers-that-be didn't reverse their decision. The authorities caved — but the boys' Rube-Goldberg-ish bomb went off anyway, turning a classroom into a smoking ruin. Our heroes were expelled — and three years later, their lives are in various stages of ruin as well.
Oguri, a star of many hit TV dramas ("Hana yori Dango") and films ("Crows Zero"), came up with the idea for "Surely Someday" five years ago, based loosely on his then-recent high school days. Teaming with scriptwriter Shogo Muto and producer Mataichiro Yamamoto, with whom he worked on the two "Crows" action comedies, Oguri has made a film of high-octane energy and shambolic likeability. It might be described as a hymn (or rather J Pop anthem) to boyhood friendship — and stupidity.
Centering the story is Takumi (Keisuke Koide), son of a former cop (Naoto Takenaka) — "former" because of Takumi's bomb caper — and proprietor of a tiny bar. As a boy, Takumi led the gang on a search for a gorgeous sex worker (Manami Konishi) who had caught his eye in a sleezy magazine — and won his heart. Miraculously, he finds her and bonds with her just as Dad and his colleagues are moving in to arrest her.
Now, years later, he is still in love with her, or rather in love with his boyhood image of her, when she resurfaces. Their odd reunion becomes the catalyst for an improbable chain of events that not only brings the old gang back together, but puts them at odds with a crazed Dennis Hopper-like yakuza boss and his minions. There is action galore, including wild chases through crowded Tokyo streets and a one-sided fight the boss stages like a "live event" before dozens of bemused onlookers with our heroes involuntarily cast as thrashed "performers." He wants ¥300 million they supposedly owe him — that is in the possession of Takumi's old flame.
In the midst of all the mayhem, the boys are trying, with varying success, to get their lives back together. They finally settle on a typically hare-brained solution: Perform their school festival tune in public — and then rob a bank.
"Surely Someday" is filmed in a cartoony and hyper style now familiar from many a local action comedy. See almost any film scripted or directed by the prolific Kankuro Kudo, or even Oguri's own oeuvre, for similarities.
But the five heroes — moonstruck Takumi, gang clown Kyohei (Ryo Katsuji), senstive guitarist Hideto (Go Ayano), simple-hearted punk Kazuo (Ryohei Suzuki) and nerdy recluse Yuki (Tsuyoshi Muro) — blend well together. Their rough, natural intimacy will be instantly familiar to anyone who ran with the wrong crowd in high school, but is rather uncommon seishun eiga, where the heroes typically stand apart from the group, when they are not total loners.
There are also notes of pathos, since all five heroes suffered lasting consequences from their youthful hijinks and the film offers no easy assurance they will climb back on the ladder to success — or even averageness. It's hard not to feel for the poor blighters, especially since they are mostly stoic about their sorry situations (though they howl and yelp when the yakuza are after them).
The title implies that the boys will "surely someday" find their happy ending. But it's more of a wish than a prediction. Will it come true? Oguri wants us to believe it will, but he ought to add a warning to teen fans tempted to imitate his heroes: Kids, don't try this at home.