“Yo-yo. Girl. Cop,” said Chris, burdening those three words with sarcasm, as only she can, and giving me one of those sidelong glances, heavy with additional meaning. Hey, what can I say. This was an unexpected revival of the series, from 2006, with the lead played by pop singer Matsura. She is a wild-child coerced into undercover work by Kazutoshi Kira (Takeuchi, from Takashi Miike’s Dead or Alive trilogy), to save her mother who is being held on espionage charges in the US [in a nice touch, Mom is played by Yuki Saito, who was the first live-action Sukeban Deka, in the original TV series]. Her mission – should she choose to accept it – is to go into a high-school and uncover those behind the threatening Enola Gay website, a neo-terrorist URL that now has a counter on it, with less than 72 hours remaining. She befriends Konno Tae (Okada), the meek victim of relentless bullying, and also encounters the school’s queen bee, Reika Akiyama (Rika Ishikawa – shown right, and another pop singer, like Okada part of the v-u-den group) and her clique. Can she work out what’s going down, and pull the plug on it?
The movie has a distinctly split-personality. Early and late, it has the straight-laced but extreme camp aspects you’d expect, with much meaningful staring, po-faced declarations and radical costuming decisions. However, for most of the middle, such angles are all but discarded for an earnest examination of contemporary social realities in Japanese educational establishments, with special focus on the problem of bullying. It isn’t bad, on its own terms – and handles the dehumanizing nature of the Internet particularly effectively – yet appears to have come from an entirely different film, and the two aspects fail abjectly to mesh, resulting in a startling unevenness of tone. Fortunately, Matsura is surprisingly good in the role, with a gutter-mouthed toughness quite at odds with her background in the entirely artificial world of J-pop idols.
Fukasaku’s father was the director of the infamous Battle Royale, a film still unreleased officialy in the US, but the son brings an entire bag of other influences to this work. There’s the ticking clock intertitle of 24, the Bond-inspired opening credits, Hannibal Lecter’s mask, used to restrain our heroine before her recruitment, and a good chunk of the central plot appears borrowed from Heathers – or, probably more likely, Suicide Circle [a.k.a. Suicide Club, a film most renowned for its opening scene]. When it moves onto its own territory, this is somewhat less effective: if Fukasaku had decided whether or not he was going for serious drama [and given the yoyo-esque aspects and its ancestry, I’d have recommended going with “not”], then the results would likely have been better. Instead, you get something that, while having its moments, won’t quite satisfy trash fans like ourselves [though it wasn’t as bad as Chris feared], and anyone else will likely give this a wide berth.
Dir: Kenta Fukasaku
Star: Aya Matsura, Riki Takeuchi, Yui Okada, Shunsuke Kubozuka