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Original Title:

Japan 2001

Drama, Romance

Isao Yukisada

Yosuke Kubozuka
Kou Shibasaki
Tsutomu Yamazaki
Shinobu Ootake
Takato Hosoyamada
Taro Yamamoto
Hirofumi Arai

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Story: Sugihara (Yosuke Kubozuka) is North-Korean, born and raised in Japan. He went to a school which was only for North-Koreans, but he didn't get along with the strict teachers. Already at an early age he was a rebel who hung out with thugs and therefore is also not a no-name to the police. Luckily, his father (Tsutomu Yamazaki) every now and then was able to beat some common sense into him and he also was pretty good at it since he is a master of boxing.
However, now times are not as violent anymore. Yet, it hasn't really become easier for Sugihara. He now attends classes at a Japanese school, but as not expected otherwise he gets into trouble with his schoolmates, who seem to hold something against Koreans. Sugihara proves to be almost as good in boxing as his father, from whom he learned quite a few tricks and therefore he manages to earn some respect among his schoolfellows. In his free time he is actually a quiet fellow, who is fascinated by traditional comedy which he was introduced to by his best friend Jeong-il (Takato Hosoyamada).
One day he meets the girl Sakurai (Kou Shibasaki) and they become friends. They eventually become a couple, but Sugihara still has to struggle with peoples hatred of foreigners. Moreover, he has to deal with a few other strokes of fate, yet the most important question for him is: How will Sakurai react, when he tells her about his ethnic roots?

Review: "Go" deals with xenophobia in Japan. And still, in contrast to other works with this theme this movie also doesn't fail to entertain and have style at the same time. With some action and a good amount of humour "Go" almost seems to be a mainstream flick, but it never loses its focus on what's important for a movie like this to succeed. Namely, to be credible and to approach a sensitive topic in Japanese society with the necessary seriousness whenever it seems appropriate.

Even the introduction leaves no doubt about it that we get to see an unusual movie. We are thrown directly into the film and are presented with a scene that at first doesn't make much sense. We move back three years ago and we are told the back story of Sugihara. This is done by lots of flashbacks and in the course of it there is slowly built a bridge to the events displayed at the beginning until it finally all adds up to a whole picture.
From the first moment the movie kicks in with an adrenalin-loaded pacing, introducing us to the life of Sugihara. Fast cuts and frenzy camera movements make the sequence when Sugihara jumps in front of a train, outruns it and thereafter flees with his gangster buddies from the police as a sort of test of courage, look like a music video. Nonetheless, during the rest of the film the pacing also slows down at times.

What's really eye-catching is the strong use of jump-cuts and freeze-frames. Making good use of latter Sugihara takes the opportunity as a narrator to fill us in a bit more about his or someone else's past, for the viewer to get some more background information which are vital for understanding what's happening. These are also the moments where there are certain key flashbacks thrown into the film.
Since Sugihara is narrator and main protagonist at the same time, it's really easy to sympathize with him. He is a rebel, but contrary to lots of other teenagers of his age he also knows what to rebel against. He is born in Japan, speaks Japanese and even looks like one of them, yet society still sees him as a foreigner. Esecially Koreans aren't really liked in Japan and so our "hero" has to fight to earn some respect. Still, how is he supposed to face the mind-set of a whole nation?

Based on a novel of the same name by Kazuki Kaneshiro, "Go" sheds some light on numerous problems. How can Koreans integrate into society, if there are schools in Japan that are built merely for North-Koreans, where one continues to teach the mentality of communism and patriotism? At least Sugihara's father does his best to see to it, that his son one day may actually feel like being a Japanese. It takes some time until we and Sugihara realize that, but when he does, Sugihara also understands that it's his and his generation's task to get rid of all prejudices anchored in society and to make sure that it is replaced by more understanding.

Apart from the strong criticism concerning society's lack of acceptance of foreigners, our "hero" always points out that this is his love story he wants to tell us about, even if we don't get to see anything from it for quite a while. When it finally kicks in, it unfolds nice and slowly on screen without bothering us with cheesiness. Kou Shibasaki, best known for her role of the gone-mad killer in "Battle Royale" plays an interesting character. Naturally, because of Sugihara's origin, we inevitably are headed towards some dramatic scenes. Nevertheless, every now and then there is a welcome change from this more serious moments in the form of well inserted humor, which makes the film more accessable and also avoids that it might lie to heavy in your stomach.

As already mentioned Yosuke Kubozuka ("Ping Pong") is our fix point in the movie and his character provides enough depth to make the film as credible as it deserves to be. In addition, there are also several other colourful side characters, whereas Tsutomu Yamazaki really stands out as Sugihara's father. Although he beats up his son in a very ruthless manner, yet with a somewhat sportsmanlike undertone, we can't really be mad at him. On the contrary, we find out that he just wishes the best for his son and therefore also taught him how to use his elbows (or rather fists) in society. Sugihara's mother is also a strange fellow, as she comes and goes as she pleases which is also the reason why there is oftentimes some tension between the family members.
However, there are some flaws to be found concerning the side characters, except of Sugihara's father. They are brought into the movie a little bit too suddenly, which wouldn't be that bad, if they wouldn't disappear as abrubtly as they turn up. Furthermore, some of them are rather important, yet are seemingly solely supposed to display certain paving stones on Sugihara's road.

Director Isao Yukisada ("Crying out Love in the Center of the World") creates a fast-paced and profound drama, which also delivers enough action and humor to please almost any viewer. Unfortunately, there are some few lengths, too. Although there are some harsh scenes the main mood of the movie is a rather positive one. Which also proves to be a sore point, because for my taste the ending is a bit too conciliatory.
The love story reminds us somewhat of "Romeo and Juliet", which is no coincidence since the movie opens with a quote from the novel: "What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet." At the latest the real meaning behind it becomes apparent at the end: It doesn't matter if you are Korean or Japanese, you are the man you are...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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