Gokusen: The Movie(2009)
- RatedPG /GenreComedy
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Rating: 2.5 out of 5
Take To Sir, With Love from London's East End, transport it to a Japanese city, play up the yakuza theme, and replace Sidney Poitier's passionate-teacher lead character with an attractive kungfu-fighting lady teacher, and what do you get?
The answer is this moralistic comedy filled with Asian matinee idol-types, spiky- and floppy-haired eye candy for teenage girls and young ladies. But to call this film, which is weighed down with relentless life lessons told in such a way that even primary school students can understand, a comedy would be inaccurate.
Based on a popular manga by Kozueko Morimoto, which inspired a live-action television and an anime series, Gokusen: The Movie is one of those franchise extensions that has one prime directive. It has been produced to satisfy its loyal, enthusiastic fan base, and no doubt milk them for more money.
Even if the filmmakers' intentions were purely financial, it seems odd that the film would have ended up being so heavy-handed in its presentation of dramatic events. The message that students should steer clear of gangs and illicit activities, and study hard in order to have a bright future, is repeated in no uncertain terms, over and over again.
And the main character Yamaguchi (played by the TV series lead Yukie Nakama), a bespectacled never-been-kissed tomboy who teaches in a private school populated almost exclusively with wayward youth, all with funky hair, punk clothes and a bad attitude, has no qualms reiterating her principles.
She keeps saying, to whomever will listen, that she is a teacher to all her students past and present, even if they've graduated and embarked on careers, and will stop at nothing to keep them out of harm's way.
This is the sorted of attitude that gets her into trouble, as she gets herself caught up in a conspiracy involving drug smugglers. One of her former students is implicated in the plot and becomes a fugitive, and when Yamaguchi and her friends poke their noses into the intrigue, they discover - shock, horror - that the ringleader may be someone familiar to them.
When the film does not stray from comedic territory, and its characters exist in a comic-book pseudo-reality that is full of exaggerated actions, emotions and expressions, it is fun to a certain extent. (Curiously, the characters all seem to be rather anxious sorts, and they tend spend a lot of the scenes running from one place to another.)
Yamaguchi, whose closely guarded secret is that she comes from a line of yakuza, has an unexplained ability to exhibit phenomenal strength when fighting. This and her social awkwardness provide fodder for laughs, and when the cast respond to Yamaguchi in equally over-the-top fashion, the film is pure pop confectionery.
When a slew of characters, presumably from the TV series, make abrupt cameos that will no doubt delight diehard fans, the film is a pop-culture fantasy writ large.
However, when the lighter, more frivolous moments are overshadowed by the preachy moments, which come with a tortuously condescending and overly sentimental soundtrack, it can be agony. It can be enough aggravation to make you kick down a wall, with the same brute force that Yamaguchi has.
About Yong Shu Chiang
Yong Shu Chiang, otherwise known as SC, is a freelance editor and writer. He reviewed movies for Juice magazine when he was in college, and was the resident film reviewer for Today Newspaper from 2003 to 2005. He has also reviewed movies for Prime Time Morning on Channel NewsAsia.
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