Friday, May 16, 2008

REVIEW: Shoujyo (An Adolescent) - Eiji Okuda (2001)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

Shôjo (or shoujyo) means “adolescent” in Japanese, and it’s also the title of Eiji Okuda’s 2001 film. The star of such yakuza films as Rokuro Mochizuki’s “Onibi: The Fire Within” and “Yakuza in Love” based his directorial debut on a Mikihiko Renjo short story about Tomokawa (Okuda directing himself), a devious small town police officer and all around lady’s man who ends up in a relationship with Yoko, a 15-year-old high school girl. Most would think that the title would refer to young Yoko, but as I sat through the film I started to wonder if “adolescent” could be used to describe Tomokawa as well, because while he seems to bask in the authority and respectability that being a policeman brings Tomokawa’s uniform can’t disguise the tattooed young thug underneath.

When we first see Tomokawa he’s heading to a house filled with caged dogs. It turns out that they’re all pets that have been reported missing and he keeps them locked up just long enough so that when he returns them to their attractive female owners they’re so happy that they end up thanking him with a little more than just a cup of green tea. From this ingenious, but manipulative pick up strategy to lending his gun out to his developmentally challenged sidekick Sukemasa so he can shoot up a junkyard everything that Tomokawa does is to satisfy his own ego. That’s why it comes as no surprise that when the Loita-esque Yoko propositions him to an afternoon of sex in a hotel room there isn’t any moment of pause, an inner voice screaming “This is wrong!” The policeman in his 40’s ends up in that hotel room with the underage girl. Afterward there is no feeling of guilt on the part of Tomogawa, in fact spurred on by his inflamed lust he searches Yoko out and finds her right under his nose. She turns out to be the sister of Sukemasa and the granddaughter of the man who tattooed the elaborate bird on Tomokawa’s back. She also seems to be the crux of some very inappropriate attention from her mother’s boyfriend and even her own grandfather. None of these revelations sways him though, or Yoko for that matter and the two (for some reason known only to them) fall in love.

While “Shoujyo (An Adolescent)” is a very well crafted film, especially for a first time director, and the performances delivered by Mayu Ozawa and the supporting cast are strong it’s these base male fantasies put forward by Okuda that make it impossible for the viewer to suspend disbelief. Last time I saw this kind of mid-life crisis wish fulfillment was in Woody Allen’s “ Manhattan ” (a much better film). It wouldn’t have made what happens in the film right, but it would have made much more sense if Okuda had stayed behind the camera and had… say… a Takeshi Kinashiro or Tadanobu Asano play Tomokawa, but it doesn’t make any sense for an adolescent girl to fall for the unpolished and Neanderthal man like Tomokawa. Then again like attracts like, so for a teenager to fall for an emotionally stunted, immature adult might not be that much of a stretch after all.

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