Friday, July 18, 2008

Movie Review: Yo-Yo Girl Cop


Yo-Yo Girl Cop (Sukeban Deka: Kôdo nêmu = Asamiya Saki), directed by Kenta Fukasaku. Screenplay by Shoichi Maruyama. Produced by Naoki Yamazaki and Mitsuru Kurosawa. Starring Aya Matsuura, Riki Takeuchi, and Rika Ishikawa. Magnolia Home Entertainment (2006). Runtime 99 minutes. Unrated.

Read other reviews here.

Yo-Yo Girl Cop, a Japanese film that can be more literally translated as Delinquent Girl Detective: Code Name Asamiya Saki, is the resurrection, or maybe the last gasp, of a popular franchise, known as Sukeban Deka, that's been out of commission since the early 90s. It began as a manga in the mid-70s and became a TV series, two movies, and a two-episode anime OVA released in 1991. This was followed by something obscure in the late 90s that one source alludes to but doesn't discuss. Wikipedia appears to have a decent summary of the franchise's history.

Admittedly, I have no experience with any of Sukeban Deka's previous incarnations, but the movie clearly sets itself up as a sequel to one of the TV series. The story follows Asamiya Saki (J-pop singer Aya Matsuura), a teenage delinquent tough girl whose mother gets arrested in New York as a possible spy. Saki herself is deported to Japan where the police offer to cut her a deal: they can get her mother out of trouble if she agrees to become an undercover cop and infiltrate an elite high school, the Seisen Academy, where someone is running a website called Enola Gay, on which an enigmatic villain called Romeo encourages bullied students to be suicide bombers. For her equipment, Saki receives a sailor fuku as well as a steel yo-yo, which she wears in a garter holster and wields as a weapon. Her mother, incidentally, is the original Asamiya Saki, played by Yuki Saito, who had the part in the TV series.

I was a bit dubious upon picking this up, mainly because it sounds like an opportunity for creepy school uniform fetishism and because Rotten Tomatoes inaccurately describes the villains as a cabal of lesbians (I'm unsure where they got that idea, though a little research indicates the manga and anime have some yuri [lesbian] content, whereas the present movie has only fleeting, possible yuri content, depending on how you want to interpret some of the friendships). Actually, the fetishism is absent--at least until the climactic battle, in which Saki replaces her sailor fuku with a tight leather outfit and has a yo-yo fight with the school's resident nasty girl (played by J-pop singer Rika Ishikawa), who, for the occasion, dons an S&M ensemble complete with studded-leather shorts and fishnet stockings. In other words, the girls spend most of the film dressed like Japanese high school students but finish up dressed like American high school students.

The back of the DVD case promises that the film contains "intense non-stop action," an exaggeration if ever there was one. In reality, Yo-Yo Girl Cop has little action; it spends most of its time being an unsettling teen drama about suicide. Early on, we see a put-upon female student slicing her wrists in the bathroom. Later, two geeky chemistry students try to end the pain by building bombs and strapping them on. One of them escapes death when Saki knocks him out, and the other escapes when a mysterious figure walks in, sees the bomb, and says, "You build that yourself? That is so cool. Let's be friends," and then hugs him as the bomb's timer continues to tick down. In the next shot, a hand holds the bomb out a window just as the timer squeals that it's about to explode. I found this scene remarkably poignant and disturbing even though I wasn't sure what was going on. In the midst of all this, teachers turn a blind eye to hazing and suicide in the school and refuse to acknowledge there's a problem, even though one student was almost successful at blowing herself up the previous year, another student actually does blow herself up at the beginning of the movie, and more and more students are getting obsessed with the Enola Gay website and seriously considering blowing themselves up as the ultimate demonstration of their pubescent angst.

The teen suicide stuff, which occupies most of the movie, is played dead serious. It's hard to reconcile with the teen cop walking around with a killer yo-yo in her garter. When the final action sequences arrive, it feels as if we've jumped into a different movie, a goofier, light-hearted movie in which teenagers can be invincible warriors and defeat heavily armed baddies by hitting them with yo-yos. The mix is strange, and I honestly can't decide if I think it's a brilliant experiment or merely an exercise in bad taste. One way or the other, it isn't entirely successful.

On the one claw, the teen drama stuff, while melodramatic and sometimes hard to watch, is well handled and reasonably compelling, but Saki's "investigation" consists of looking bored, cussing at most of her fellow students, and making friends with one of the bullied girls. The thin plot layered on top of the raw emotions made me wish the titular girl cop would go away and just let the movie be a story of angsty high school students. On the other claw, the teen drama is so unexpected given the movie's title and premise, I was wishing the serious stuff would go away so I could see some cool yo-yo stunts, but even when a real yo-yo battle finally occurred at the end, I was disappointed at the dearth of impressive tricks. Somebody should have hired Tommy Smothers as choreographer.

When it's all over, I just wish Yo-Yo Girl Cop would decide what kind of movie it wants to be.

Content Advisory: Contains pervasive language (mostly Japanese but some English--get it?), scenes of suicide, action violence, revealing outfits, and ineffectual weaponry

The Sci Fi Catholic's Rating for Yo-Yo Girl Cop:

Myth Level: I don't know man, who put this category here?

Ethics/Religion: Medium (frequent swearing; appears to be trying to dissuade from suicide and bullying)

Quality: Medium-High (creative cinematography, generally solid writing and acting, a short-shrift in the action department)
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