Friday, April 18, 2008

REVIEW: Yo-Yo Girl Cop - Kenta Fukasaku (2006)

Reviewed by Chris MaGee

A girl in a high school uniform stumbles through the darkened streets of Shibuya, a bomb strapped to her chest. She weaves through the crowd, the electronic beeping of the bomb’s timer getting faster and faster. “Move away! Stay far away!” she yells to the throngs of confused and frightened pedestrians. A few more steps and she stands in the middle of the famous Shibuya Crossing. Parked at the curb she sees a mini-van with a camera mounted on it, a camera that films her as the bomb explodes. Thankfully we don’t see any limbs landing on the pavement, but there is a close up of one bit of shrapnel from the explosion, something odd, a yo-yo. Well, in any normal film this would be odd, but in a film called “Yo-Yo Girl Cop” (2006) what more would you expect?

The Japanese title of the film “Sukeban Deka: Codename = Asamiya Saki” will be a lot more familiar with Japanese viewers who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Running from 1976-1982 “Sukeban Deka” was a manga created by Shinji Wada that spawned a popular TV show and an early film adaptation in 1987. Its basic formula of wayward teenaged girls working as spies for a mysterious organization forms the backbone of “Yo-Yo Girl Cop”.

After the explosion in Shibuya the action cuts to New York City . A teenaged girl, restrained and muzzled like Hannibal Lecter, is being held in police custody for an outdated visitor’s visa, and for having put the 11 police officers who tried to arrest her in the hospital. To make matters worse the girl’s mother is also being held in custody for suspicion of espionage. Coming to the girl’s rescue is a limping, scruffy, Japanese ex-cop, Kiza Kazutoshi (played with scenery chewing abandon by Riki Takeuchi). Following an action packed escape attempt Kiza flies the girl back to Japan and recruits her into “Organization K”, some kind of police force that investigates juvenile crime. Her mission: infiltrate Seisan Academy, the source of a mysterious website called “Enola Gay” that is behind a number of bombings in the Tokyo area… one of which was the murder of an Organization K agent, the girl at the start of the film. Since then there’s been a countdown on the Enola Gay site, Kiza isn’t sure to what, but that’s what the newly codenamed Saki Asamiya must find out. And to sweeten the pot if she succeeds her mother will be released from her New York prison cell.

It’s quite the set up, kind of Japan ’s answer to “La Femme Nikita”, but what follows is a campy exploration of the same kind of teenaged angst that propelled Kinji Fukasaku’s cult hit “Battle Royale”. It makes sense. “Yo-Yo Girl Cop” was directed by Fukasaku’s son, Kenta, who wrote the screenplay for “Battle Royale” and who directed its disappointing sequel in 2003. Regardless of his namesake it would be a mistake to look for the same kind of savage social commentary that characterized by father. “Yo-Yo Girl Cop” is far closer in spirit to Ryuhei Kitamura than the elder Fukasaku. Kenta delivers a cheesy, fun take on an entrenched genre in Japanese pop culture: high school students taking on grown up baddies and saving the world. I mean, I did that in high school, didn’t you?

It would be easy to collect a group of friends and a 24 of beer and spend an hour and a half laughing at/ with “Yo-Yo Girl Cop”, except that the villains of the film, former and current bullied high schoolers who take their bitterness and misanthropy to the extreme by blowing up themselves and others with homemade bombs, are uncomfortably close to the high school shootings and suicide bombings that seem to make headlines around the world almost on a weekly basis. If Kenta Fukasaku was trying, like his father, to make a pointed social satire like his father, he really missed his mark.

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