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 Post subject: Sakigake! Otoko-juku!
PostPosted: December 28th, 2008, 5:14 pm 
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I watched “Sakigake! Otoko-juku!” – the live-action movie from 2008 that is.
I interpret „Sakigake“ as a verb in the imperative form, and it means someone is commanded to charge forward. It can also interpreted as a noun, denotating the one who is charging forward. „Vanguard“ might be a possible translation, or „striker“. The term „Otoko-juku“ implies an educational establishment (“juku”) for boys/men (“otoko”).

It’s hard finding the plot of the movie as it is somewhat hidden between duels and exaggeratedly masculine talk. All you need to know is that some high-level fighter character wants to take over (conquer?) the school and that he, of course, meets resistance.

The audience quickly learns that this is a school applying pre-war methods of the Imperial Japanese army to instill discipline – violence and torture. It is revealing that one instructor wears old Japanese djungle fatigues, and the other one a uniform of the German Reichswehr (predecessor of the Wehrmacht), including steel helmet and saber.
This movie is about a bunch of difficult or delinquent juveniles turning into die-hard friends who stick to each other to the death.
Sounds like a serious psychodrama?
It’s a comedy.
At least the genre description says so.

The whole thing started in 1985, with a Manga, to no one’s surprise, which ran until 1991. An Anime series was created in 1988, with the unusual number of 34 episodes. During this time a movie version was also produced. Then, nothing happened for 20 years, and in 2008 somebody had the not-so-brilliant idea of making a live action remake.

I have no idea whether the live action version has anything much to do with the Anime movie, and what crimes the old movie has already committed to the series. At least it looks like this current film was an abridged version of the series, limiting the „plot“ to the more interesting fight scenes and the most important dialogues. It is obvious that there’s so much being left out that the whole product is nothing more than a farce.

The school appears as a very paradoxical place. The protagonist is a young man from a wealthy family who is ordered by his mother to enroll in said Otoko-juku in order to become a “real man”, so he wouldn’t end up like his father – a hint not furtherly discussed. His mother mentions that since the Edo Era (1604-1864) many great heroes and leading politicians had been students of this school. Taking a look at the assembled people at the Otoko-juku you have to ask yourself how that could be possible.

It’s not the first time that a well-raised young man joins a school full of potential rogues and delinquents. It’s such an area of conflict that creates the dramatic elements and humor. „Sakigake! Cromartie Kôkô“ („Kôkô“ = „Highschool“) was a brilliant work parodying the genre in a very entertaining way. And what is a high priority attribute of the genre? Most of the roles are being played by actors well beyond their thirties. I don’t like this style in Anime, and I don’t like it in live action - which makes it look even more stupid!

This Otoko-juku looks more like a penitentiary or correctional institution for juvenile delinquents of the lowest kind than an elitist establishment for future prime ministers and cabinet members – unless you want to see this as a sarcastic pun at the true nature of politicians.
On the one hand the students get taught that discipline is the prime virtue, and misdemeanor is punished by torture and punches. The disability of the average student to solve an easy multiplication exercise without using his fingers, on the other hand, seems to be venial in the eyes of the instructors.

At one point, the new students are being „welcomed“ by their upperclassmen, the second year students. Their ring leader gives a speech and introduces the school’s three principles:
    1. Discipline
    2. Loyalty
    3. Courage
And a moment later, during this very introduction, you get to see that all this is just cheap talk.
The ring leader flees upon facing a stronger opponent who cannot be easily bullied into submission and sends his henchmen to the front. Principle #3 is immediately broken by a supposed role model, altogether with principle #2 when he leaves the fight to his inferiors and completely removes himself from the danger zone. If you take a further step you’ll realize that he also broke principle #1, allowing a fight to break out between the 1st and 2nd year students due to his provocations.
My middle finger got very long.

Another thing are military education methods from before 1945 and, as I mentioned, the use of torture. The oil bath for example, a legacy from feudal times. The delinquent has to sit in a pot full of oil which is being heated up, together with a small boat in which a candle burns. He has to remain in there until the candle has burned down, or until he has told his captors what they want to hear. Of course boiling oil is unbearable, but the delinquent must also not move – for if he does, the little boat will capsize and the candle will light the oil. The guy in the movie, however, remains still despite some utterances contorted with pain.

The depiction of military education, I’d say, is very realistic, or was very realistic, in pre-war times. War veterans, common soldiers in bootcamp and WOCs in the academies alike, described how they were constantly beaten black and blue for the slightest mistakes, and the NCOs, the drill sergeants, used to say: “I’m not hitting you because I hate you. I’m hitting you because I love you like a son!” Of course they don’t say it like that in the movie, but that’s how it’s been. Discipline is thus violently drummed into people’s heads, for only discipline leads to a successfull life, right?
If I had the historical awareness of the average Japanese student maybe I’d find this funny. Maybe. If you wanted to make something similar, say, in Germany you’d have to present juvenile delinquents in a camp applying SS drill procedures. Still, I am sure that the story was not created in the spirit of revisionism, but out of a lack of said historical awareness.

Everything that is going on here is abridged and compressed to a degree that it looks almost surreal. The characters are introduced so quickly and superficially that they’re really hard to tell apart, making it impossible to invoke any form of sympathy.
The transformation of the wuss Hidemary into an accepted member of the group, who is willing to make sacrifices, happens so fast that it looks like you recorded the play “MacBeth” with a camera that takes a picture only every ten seconds.
Another example is Toramaru who, on his way to school, is hit by a car driven by a pretty lady. She is so beautiful to him that he apologizes to her for standing in the way. On a forest dirt road. You would think that this lady would reappear at some point and play some sort of role, but – no.
Togashi gets asked out by a girl to find out that all this was a test of courage for her, acting out of peer pressure. But she doesn’t appear happy with her doing: another case of a character which might have another appearance to deepen the lead characters – denied. It’s ridiculous.

Do I have to explicitly say that it was a total waste of time watching this movie?
It doesn’t help that one of the most famous duos of Japanese action cinema are involved in lead roles, Sakaguchi Tak and Sakaki Hideo who have done such a great job in “Versus”. But “Otoko-juku” is beyond any hope, it cannot be saved by any great name in the cast list.

What I did like in the end was the outer appearance of Togashi – that guy looks just like a young Charles Bronson, including hair style and the trademark mustache.


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