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Go
Year: 2001
Yosuke Kubozka
Director: Isao Yukisada
Cast: Yosuke Kubozka, Kou Shibasaki, Shinobu Otake, Taro Yamamoto, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Hirofumi Arai, Takato Hosayamada, Masato Hagiwara, Mitsuru Murata, Kim Min Jeong
The Skinny: Confidently directed teen comedy/drama which is refreshingly engaging and thrilling, though it eventually settles into your standard by-the-numbers teen melodrama. Still, the uncommon intelligence, well-staged scenes, and some canny performances make this a worthy experience.
Review
by Kozo:
     Adapted from a novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro, the teen drama Go surprises with some uncommon intelligence and an engaging style and narrative. Star Yosuke Kubozka displays admirable screen presence, and his onscreen liason with co-star Kou Shibasaki creates some moving moments. Then, the film returns to its teen drama roots, and things get predictable and even trite. But the ride is good.
     Kubozka stars as Sugihara, a Japan-born North Korean who's lived in Japan his whole life. Enrolled in an indoctrinating North Korean school, he decides to switch to being South Korean, which is a choice that comes with consequences. Some of his former friends now consider him a traitor, and his new classmates at a Japanese school don't take kindly to him either.
     Luckily, Sugihara can fight his way out of any circumstance since his father (Tsutomu Yamazaki) was a professional boxer and has made sure to teach his son the pugilistic arts. Dad also uses boxing to discipline his son, meaning any and all punishments are handled via some swift uppercuts and perhaps some lost teeth. The only seemingly positive aspect to Sugihara's life is the appearance of Sakurai (Kou Shibasaki), a lovely Japanese girl who becomes his first girlfriend. However, he hesitates to tell her his Korean roots, as he fears this may alienate her. And, more to the point, is it even necessary to tell her?
     Go works best in it's opening half, when it explores Sugihara's pent-up rage and inner turmoil towards his unenviable position. Essentially, Sugihara has no identity, as he can be neither Korean nor Japanese. Neither group will accept him fully, nor does he truly wish it. As such, he lives a sort of iconoclastic existence which achieves its highs only when he's bucking whichever system happens to be keeping him down. Cinematically, those moments are embodied by a pounding soundtrack and a hyperrealistic filmmaking style which is both absurd and strangely real. Kubozka matches that with a physically dynamic intensity, and the blinding energy and jazzy stylistic excess make the film a thrilling experience.
     Things change considerably when Sakurai enters the picture, though the film's intelligence never seems to dim. The courtship of Sugihara and Sakura is told in long, seemingly inconsequential scenes, though the emotions that actors Kubozka and Shibasaki bring to the screen feel exceptionally real. Their relationship takes on even more weight when the issue of Sugihara's identity enters the picture. When Sakurai discovers Sugihara's identity, the moment is awkward, then heartbreaking. That her reaction is based on ignorance and just plain adolescent fear makes the moment all the more telling and frighteningly real.
     Yet, the film sinks into predictable teen melodrama soon thereafter. Sugihara's life is complicated by other factors, namely the fate of friend Jong-Il (Takato Hosayamada), and his seemingly abusive relationship with his father. Both films involve the subjects of racism and identity, and both eventually become opportunities for Sugihara to exercise choice. The questions here are obvious. Who will he be? What will he do? Practically every teen coming-of-age drama requires these necessary questions, and Go doesn't waver from that. It does approach some of the subjects with a decidedly refreshing irreverence (an impromptu boxing match between father and son is one such moment), but the film's superior journey ends up with familiar results.
      And, the ultimate resolution to Sugihara's love problems is even more uninspired and trite. Go posits complex, difficult relationships and problems that involve and affect, and the presence of a "mega happy ending" seems a little too easy. The actors certainly make us wish for a happy conclusion, but satisfying audience desire isn't always the best - or most appropriate course of action. Sometimes what's more affecting may be the path that's least comfortable.
     However, Go does possess a superior journey, and that should be lauded. The fact that the film's questions are not entirely answered (and in some cases even glossed over) is a consideration, but the film itself is cinematically exceptional. Director Isao Yukisada brings considerable confidence to the table, and the film's polished feel is a testament to his sure handling. Thanks to a wonderful sense of narrative and cinematic style, Go simply begs to be watched. The least we can do is oblige. (Kozo 2002)
Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Intercontinental Video Limited (IVL)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
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