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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Shônen Merikensack - Japanese punk psycho?

Images source: Shônen Merikensack by Kankuro Kudo

Kanna (Aoi Miyazaki, Nana) is a young record label employee who one day stumbles upon a punk rock band’s concert video on the Internet. It draws the attention of her psyched gay boss (Yûsuke Santamaria, Bayside Shakedown), depressed by the popular but tasteless music he’s been producing in the past years. But when she gets to meet their guitarist (Koichi Sato, Sukiyaki Western), she realizes that the video’s 25 years old, and the whole band’s turned into a bunch of pathetic old boys (ojisan), including two brothers who hasn’t been talking for ages. Because the tour is already booked and her job is on the line, she just has to lie for a while, and hope that playing music is just like riding a bike…

Beware, movie-goer Nippon-lover, for you may have never seen Japan from that angle. Shônen Merikensack (or SMS), in other words “the brass knuckle boys”, is a damaged spoof about Japanese musical scene – and how it turned to the worse in the 90s, and the meaning of punk rock. And that makes it one of a kind. The theme hadn’t been the subject of many movies since the very nice and unrecognized Iden & Tity; and as Kanna’s character illustrates it, punk is not that famous in Japan, especially to young generations. SMS may be the first Japanese movie to deal with it since the wonderful Linda Linda Linda… in a completely different genre, it is.

And the genre is goofball comedy, at its finest. Right off the bat, SMS makes a strike with its opening scene, when the freaked out punk singer, “Jimmy”, screams non-speaking language in the mic. From then on, the movie keeps on the absurd and non-sensic visual gags, e.g. the older version of the singer, who has a hard time singing since he’s a bit handicapped. Of course, the mix of punk attitude’s elegy with over-the-top comedy automatically spawns utter irreverence – and you’ve got it all, from fart jokes to hemorrhoids, let’s not forget it’s asian cinema we’re watching here – but it goes with the turf. All of this serves only one purpose: the opposition of ponytailed Kanna’s cuteness and the old boys’ roughness. And it works, because one of the freedom given to each actor, freewheeling, playing it pretty much how he wants to, as long as it matches the movie’s epileptic outrageousness. The outcome is great fun, thanks to the smart writing by director Kankuro Kudo (the dumb Maiko Haaaan!!!), to the middle-aged stars performance (Koichi Sato, master of self-derision since The Magic Hour…), but also to all the guest stars, inherent to that kind of japanese trendy movie, like Tanabe Seichi (Kimi ha petto), hilarious in the very short part of an eccentric rock star who blew a fuse in the process.

But the main attraction is the lovely Miyazaki Aoi, in her first authentically comedic lead role, very far from her debut in cerebral indie films like Eureka. Full of some sort of kriptonic energy, she illuminates the show from start to finish with her juvenile looks, and watching her fidget regressively seems perfectly right… because SMS is not only a cartoon. Indeed, the satire mode of the movie has some fun making a fool of a few aspects of japanese pop culture: through Kanna’s boyfriend’s character (a wanabee singer who makes Yuzu look like a death metal band) , it doesn’t spare the cheesy soft rock that characterizes japanese popular music since the mid-90s, nor the modern urban male, more in touch with its feminine side than the other, nor the creepy attitude of many girls, that Miyazaki Aoi wonderfully caricatures in her own irresistible way. Last but not least, the movie doesn’t forget to make a point about its case – that is to say punk music – by saying the most important thing about it: if it’s bad, then it’s good.

From a dramatic POV, Kankuro Kudo tried this time to make something more than a joke, and the last third of the movie loses a bit of its energy when it gets all romantic about Kanna’s love relationship and the ojisan’s wounds from the past. It’s a common mistake in comedies, but SMS has gained so many points in its first two-thirds that it’s not a big deal. Isn’t that the very nature of punk anyway?

Author: Alexandre Martinazzo

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