Thu Jan 10 23:28:37 EST 2002
Tadayuki Okubo, the Toei PR person in charge of Go. told me that the
zainichi Korean reaction to the film was mixed. Half, he said, were "really
moved that a Japanese movie would show some understanding of the pain they
endured," while another half thought the happy ending unrealistic. "In real
life, most girls (like the heroine) would not come back," he said.
Here is my Japan Times review of the film:
By Mark Schilling
Rating: * * * *
Director: Isao Yukisada
Running time: 122 minutes
A few years ago, Asians were the hot thing in Japanese films,
then, suddenly, they were not. The peak was Shunji Iwai's
"Swallowtail," a 1996 dystopian fantasy about a near-future
overrun by hungry young Asians who would commit any crime for a
but were more vital than the gray Japanese masses around them.
its stylistic borrowings from Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner" and
peculiar mix of xenophilia and xenophobia (its Asians were great
people to party with, but not to trust with the CD player),
"Swallowtail" became a hit -- and more Japanese money and talent
went into movies with an Asians-in-Japan theme.
Unfortunately, none of the later Japanese films with Asian
surpassed the success of "Swallowtail," and the Asian boom died
down, if not out. Instead, horror films became the next hot
and their principals all carried Japanese passports (save for
ones from the Great Beyond).
Isao Yukisada's "Go" is something like "Swallowtail Redux": a
by a promising new director arriving in the theaters with
buzz, whose zainichi (resident-in-Japan) Korean hero exudes the
of spunk and soul most of his Japanese age-mates have either
never had to begin with. But in contrast to Iwai's Asians, who
mostly cool figments of the director's imagination, the hero of
-- a teenager with a lion-mane hairdo and a temper to match --
the credible creation of Kazuki Kaneshiro, author of the
best-selling novel on which the film is based, and a zainichi
This hero, Sugihara, simmers with the rage that comes from
different in a society that celebrates its homogeneity and
membership by blood. Though they may be the third generation of
their families in Japan and they may look, talk and act like the
Japanese around them, Sugihara and his Korean pals are still
excluded, in ways subtle and not so subtle, from the mainstream.
They are, the film notes in a funny, fast-paced, slickly edited
opening sequence, more likely to end up in a police lineup than
behind a company president's desk.
This is not a new theme -- Japanese films such as Nagisa
"Koshikei (Death by Hanging)" (1968) and Kohei Oguri's "Kayoko
Tame ni (For Kayoko)" (1984) tackled it, usually from the
Koreans-as-victims angle. Probably the most accurate and
the funniest take, however, was that of zainichi Korean director
Yoichi Sai in his 1993 film "Tsuki wa Dotchi ni Deteiru (All
the Moon)." It told a blackly comic tale of a Korean cabby who
just trying to get by (if not along), shrugging off slurs from
Japanese passengers while fending off the demands of his
mother that he find a nice Korean girl and settle down. Instead
social problem demanding redress, Sai treated his hero's
as a condition admitting no easy solution. This approach won the
film many awards, but did not earn the apolitical Sai many PC
Though he may not have Sai's street cred, Yukisada is
for the task of making Koreans trendy again. In addition to
as an assistant director for Iwai on several films, including
"Swallowtail," he has made everything from music videos to
("Himawari," "Zeitaku na Hone"), while becoming fluent in the
new language of the modern eizo sakka (visual artist), with its
large vocabulary of computer-aided editing tricks and its blithe
rejection of traditional boundaries between high and low art.
new film is by turns, cheeky, cartoony and wittily stylish --
never dully self-important. It also has a vitality and drive
soothes its irritants, primarily the gratingly coy Ko Shibasaki
Sugihara's love interest.
Most of all, it has a star-making performance by Yosuke Kubozuka
who, as Sugihara, brings a combination of brash attitude and
charm, raw toughness and comic flair. After a decade of looking
its next Yusaku Matsuda, perhaps the Japanese film industry has
finally found him.
The film traces Sugihara's journey from his lock-step education
Spartan minzoku gakko (Korean junior high school), dedicated to
greater glory of Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, to his entry into an
ordinary Japanese high school and his fateful encounter with the
lovely Sakurai (Shibasaki), she of the long, copper-colored hair
dramatically arched eyebrows. A bit of a rebel herself, coming
across as 18-going-on-28, Sakurai is attracted by the fire in
eyes -- and makes him believe, for the first time, that "Korean"
a category he can escape.
The film, as Sugihara keeps reminding us in a voice-over, is
"love story," but it is also a coming-of-age story, with a
energy and occasional sharp, satiric bite. Instead of running
usual oppressed-versus-oppressor changes, Yukisada and
Kankuro Kudo turn them inside out. Trained from boyhood by his
former pro-boxer father (Tsutomu Yamazaki), Sugihara knocks off
succession of would-be Japanese bullies as though they were so
arcade-game villains. His big eyes-lock moment with Sakurai is
preceded by a free-for-all, inspired by Hong Kong chopsocky
in which he takes on an entire hostile basketball team (his own,
He might appear to be a local version of that familiar figure
Hollywood films -- the Super Minority Hero. (Yosuke Kubozuka,
Will Smith.) Only he is not. Dad, a testy eccentric who changed
nationality from North to South Korean so he could take Mom
Otake) on a trip to Hawaii, regularly knocks the stuffing out of
him, while his delinquent pals at the minzoku gakko get him into
idiotic trouble, such as running down the tracks ahead of an
approaching subway train, with only the suicidally slimmest of
starts. Then Sakurai weaves her spell and reveals him as a gawky
who can hardly talk to girls, let alone bed one.
Sugihara, however, is something more as well. Refusing the
role in which society has cast him, he tries again and again to
break out -- and nearly has his heart broken in the process.
One heartbreaker is Shoichi (Takahito Hosodayama), Sugihara's
friend, who has the most promise of all the Korean kids he
and the worst luck. Another is Sakurai, who, as played by
is flirty, flighty and supremely full of herself. But Kubozuka
the real thing -- and makes "Go" worth going to.
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