Genre: Urban Youth Existentialism
review in one breath
Director Gu Suyeon, himself a Korean-born Japanese citizen, explores the difficulties and near-hopelessness of being raised ethnically different within Japan. Guuzen ni mo Saiaku na Shonen follows Kaneshiro Hidenori (Ichihara Hayato) who, though raised his entire life within Tokyo, nevertheless carries the distinction of being Korean. The stress upon Kaneshiro's parents to "fit into" Japanese culture was tremendous throughout Kaneshiro's childhood, eventually resulting in their divorce. This has left Kaneshiro, now a high school student, to live an unsupervised life, which soon leads to a rather chaotic and hapless lifestyle.
This film is rife with attempted social commentary on the lamentable consequences of social and cultural disenfranchisement. The implicit discrimination by the Japanese of immigrant Koreans follows Kaneshiro throughout his youth, from being beaten by his elementary classmates at a very early age, to being pulverized into unconsciousness by high school rivals in the back alleys of Tokyo. This race-based conditioning has caused Kaneshiro to expect from society nothing more than discrimination and injustice, and thus his entire life is lived in utter disregard of consequences. Through his actions and choices, it becomes clear he is not concerned with social authority, imprisonment, physical harm, or suicide. The only word which he, his friends and those he encounters can use to describe this approach is "crazy", a moniker Kaneshiro laughingly wears with pride.
But director Suyeon is careful to clue audiences into the fact that Kaneshiro's external acting-out is indeed a survival strategy which is ruining Kaneshiro physically. After every life-threatening or emotionally difficult situation, Kaneshiro can be found buckled over in stress-induced fits of vomiting. These, of course, he laughs off in front of friends who seem accustomed to the sight. Oddly enough, these bouts of reactionary sickness become the sole evidence that Kaneshiro's conscience remains somewhat intact and that he has not, in fact, completely committed himself to craziness. It is this murmur of conscience which becomes the focal point of the second half of the film, as Kaneshiro undertakes a truly bizarre yet noble gesture of devotion to his sister Nanako (Yazawa Shin). This gesture and the many obstacles which Kaneshiro must overcome to see it through makes Guuzen ni mo Saiaku na Shonen turn out to be so much more than a mere exploration into urban youth nihilism. It instead becomes a sad, meaningful tale of enduring human emotion despite insurmountable and overwhelming reality.
Only weeks after her first reunion with Kaneshiro in two years, Nanako has committed suicide. Joined by his mother and father at the hospital, Kaneshiro can only at first laughingly wonder out loud whether he too might kill himself. But upon further reflection, he becomes increasing bothered by the fact that Nanako had never seen Korea, the special yet haunting shadow which had hung over their lives throughout their time in Japan. The only solution he can foresee is indeed a radical one which is both socially abhorrent and unparalleled in good intention and sincerity.
With the help his friends Yumiko (Nakashima Mika) and Taro (Ikeuchi Hiroyuki), Kaneshiro steals his sister's body from the hospital morgue and with very little resource at their disposal, begin to make the long trek to the town of Hakata, Kyushu, the closest point in Japan to the Korean peninsula, where they plan to somehow buy a place for Nanako on a boat to Korea. The trip is fraught with obstacles, such as lack of money or the fear of being caught with a corpse in the car. Most pressing, however, stems from the fact that the Japanese burial custom of cremation does not require the Western practice of embalming which otherwise staves the onset of decay and putrification. In other words, Kaneshiro and friends must accomplish their task in a very timely manner before Nanako literally decomposes in the sweltering summer heat.
Though the trek itself has it own set of difficulties, the most formidable obstacles are faced once they reach Hakata. Out of desperation and the realization that the entire effort may come to nothing, Kaneshiro's nihilism comes into play when he must be willing to lose everything in order to see Nanako off to Korea.
Guuzen ni mo Saiaku na Shonen was very entertaining, and though quite extreme in its portrayal of youth rebellion, comes across in the end as meaningful and perhaps even heartwarming. Much like director Miike Takashi's Shinjuku Triad Society which likewise explored the strength of familial ties despite Japanese social discrimination against immigrants, director Suyeon presents here an unusual yet convincing tale of blood being thicker than water.
Suyeon's depiction of youth will come across as exaggerated, particularly with Kaneshiro's almost annoying ADHD and Yumiko's near perfect goth ambiance. But though noticeable, these exaggerations do not get in the way of this otherwise entertaining and thought-provoking story.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|Extreme tale of growing up Korean in Japan, directed by Gu Suyeon, who grew up Korean in Japan.||Some knife induced blood. Plenty of punching and kicking. Prominent display of a slowly deteriorating corpse throughout most of the film. (The decompositon is implied rather than graphically displayed.)||No sex or nudity. Some lingerie on display.||This is probably the strangest 'road trip' film you will see. Interesting extreme youth tale from the perspective of a Korean immigrant in Japan.|