A young Asian man and woman, both in their late teens are lying in bed, half undressed and about to make love to each other for the first time. At the last moment the young man pulls back, kneels beside the woman and tells her he needs to make a confession. During the long pause that follows you would think that he is going to tell her that he doesn’t love her, that he’s HIV positive, that he was once a woman, but instead he simply tells her that he’s not in fact Japanese, but Korean. Upon hearing this the young woman breaks down in tears. Now for someone who grew up in Toronto, one of the most multicultural cities in the world, this reaction just seems bizarre, but this young couple isn’t in Toronto, but in Japan one of the most ethnically homogeneous countries on earth and Isao Yukisada focuses his 2001 film “Go” on what it means to grow up as a non-Japanese in Japan.
Even though Lee Sugihara (Yôsuke Kubozuka) was born and raised in Japan he and his friends have always been on the outside, never feeling good enough, not for their Japanese peers who mock them and see them as somehow “dirty” and not even for the teachers in the North Korean high school that they attend. Sugihara doesn’t know where he belongs, and his father and mother aren’t helping much. In fact the only guidance he gets from his dad (played by ubiquitous Tsutomu Yamazaki) is in the art of boxing, but not enough to save him when he wants to beat his son up as punishment for getting out of line.
Then again, maybe in his own way Lee’s father tries to show him what must be done to get by in Japanese society as an “outsider”. Lee watches, embarrassed as his father gives up his North Korean citizenship so that he can go on a trip to Hawaii. Later Lee watches him singing a Spanish song in the rain, and he tells his son that maybe one day he’ll decide to be Spanish. “What could his crazy dad be going on about?” Lee thinks.
Even though the proceedings sometimes get a little overpowered with fast, showy editing and supporting characters appear and then disappear just as suddenly the end result is a very involving film about a young man’s struggle to grow up that comes with a strong message: No matter what the common herd that surrounds you says, whether you are North Korean, South Korean or Spanish it isn’t the name on your passport that defines who you are.