GO (2001) review by Asian Movie Pulse
Panos Kotzathanasis from the excellent Asian cinema news and reviews site Asian Movie Pulse, joins us for a guest post. With the forthcoming Third Window Films blu ray release of GO (2001) directed by Isao Yukisada, Panos share his review of this Japanese delinquents high-school drama.
Based on the homonymous novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro, which won the Naoki Prize for Literature in 1999, “Go” was equally successful as a film, taking the majority of the significant Japanese awards by storm, including those of the Japanese Academy, where it netted 10, among them those for Best Director, Screenplay, and for a number of the actors.
Told through a plethora of flashbacks, the story takes place in 1980s Tokyo, and focuses on Sugihara, a Japanese-Korean who is struggling with his identity and his place in a society that is not exactly welcoming. His father, Hideyoshi, a former boxer, acknowledges the problems his son has, and thus trains him in boxing, in order for the young man to be able to defend and learn to stand out for himself. He also makes him attend a North Korean school, where one of the main rules is to avoid speaking in the Japanese language.
Sugihara, however, is unable to fit in there, and after a violent incident with one of his teachers, he leaves to attend a Japanese school. His life is not much easier there, despite the fact that his fighting abilities have him getting a reputation for the school’s strongest, and that he finds a girlfriend in the face of a Japanese girl named Sakurai. The two find common ground through their family issues, but a tragic incident involving the only guy he considers a friend, reminds him once more that “his people” are not exactly welcome in the country.
Although the film begins in tension, with fast cuts, punk music, violence and a lot of running, it soon settles down to a slower tempo that suits its social drama premises better. Do not expect, however, Koreeda-style of filmmaking, since the tension is still found throughout, as much as the absurd and funny characters, with Sugihara’s mother and her obsession with milk being a prime example. As such, and despite the rather serious main subject, the approach here reminds much of some of the movies Takashi Miike shot later on, “Crows Zero” most particularly, although Isao Yukisada is definitely more grounded in his filmmaking.
This, however, does not mean that his comments do not get through eloquently. On the contrary, the analysis of Sugihara allows for a number of socio-philosophical comments. The main one is racism in the country and its many forms that actually work both ways, and seem to have creeped in a number of aspects of society, ranging from outright violence to some seemingly innocent comments here and there. Through this notion, Yukisada also deals with the concept of identity and fitting in, with Sugihara having a quadruple way to choose in front of him, the Japanese, the S. Korean, the N. Korean, and lastly, becoming a pariah.
His relationship with Sakurai is essentially the one that opens the way for him to both make a choice and to realize who he really is, in a very appealing coming-of-age element in the movie. That the romantic aspect is portrayed realistically, with all the issues teenage romance brings, is another tick in the pros column, as the director avoids any kind of beautification of his subjects.
Also of note here are the production values. Katsumi Yanahijima’s mix of handheld and static shots captures the emotions of the characters artfully. Takeshi Imai’s editing switches tempo according to the aesthetics of every scene in the most fitting way, while the flashbacks are well-placed within the story. Lastly the selection of music is exceptional, in another Japanese movie from the 90s and 00s that includes a great soundtrack, as in the case of Toyoda or Miike films for example.
Yosuke Kubozuka as Sugihara gives a powerful performance, capturing the angst and frustration of a teenager struggling with his identity, in a way that does not make him likable immediately, but allows the viewer to eventually understand and empathize with him. Ko Shibasaki’s portrayal of Yamazaki is quite nuanced, with her cheerfulness creating a very appealing antithesis with the attitude of her co-star. Tsutomu Yamazaki and Shinobu Otake as the eccentric parents of Sugihara steal the show a number of times, concluding the great performances in the movie.
"Go" is a powerful and poignant film that explores themes of identity, discrimination, and friendship in a way that makes it relevant even today, more than 20 years after its initial release.
With thanks to our guest reviewer, Panos Kotzathanasis. Read more articles from Panos on the Asian Movie Pulse site.
You can buy the Third Window Release of GO blu ray on the Terracotta store.