BOUNCE KO GALS (LEAVING) (director/writer: Masato Harada; cinematographer: Yoshitaka Sakamoto; editor: Hirohide Abe; music: Masahiro Kawasaki; cast: Hitomi Sato (Jonko), Yasue Sato (Raku), Yukiko Okamoto (Lisa), Jun Murakami (Sap), Shin Yazawa (Maru), Kaori Momoi (Saki), Koji Yakusho (Oshima), Kazuki Kosakai (Salaryman); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Masakatsu Suzuki; Medeia Blasters and Tokyo Shock 1997-Japan, in Japanese with English subtitles)
“There’s nothing fresh uncovered.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Writer/director Masato Harada (“Kamikaze Taxi”/”Inugami”) presents a teenager rebel chic flick about the perils facing these underground types in the seedy urban streets. It has some bounce due to the diversionary music thrown into the scenario and the energy of the teenage actors and its animated style of filming. But the production values are cheesy, the story is stale and too predictable, and the uneven pacing makes things even more choppy. The recent American film Thirteen covers the same territory and makes the same missteps, though it was more polished and titillating a watch. The viewer never gets to know enough about the characters to determine what went wrong and no one seems to take responsibility for their own actions, as both films too easily blame society and take an unimpressive nonjudgmental stance. You can also wonder why there were no parents around; it’s as if children without parents is normal.
The frisky group of high school girls of the Shibuya section of Tokyo have abortions, sell their used panties to a sex shop (this spawned the vending machines sex craze which gave Hanada the idea for the movie), make softcore porn videos, go on paid dates with older men, become whores, do drugs and live for their cell phones and upscale designer brand clothes. They mostly get money, which is valued as the most important thing in the world, by going on these paid dates with the older men whom they revile. Hanada spends a lot of time preaching how perverse Japanese society has become, whereas he notes that everyone has lost their sense of values. The young gals, called high-gals (kogyaru), have sold their innocence for a few material things. The older men use their money to despoil the innocence of the young girls. The film winds its way down to a sentimental conclusion, but it lost me a long time before as the urban scenario looked about as tempting as a Big Mac does to a vegetarian. This film was about as probing of the porn underground culture street scene as was the politicos questioning of Bush before the Iraq War about his end-game plans.
The main story follows an innocent looking girl named Lisa (Yukiko Okamoto) who has dual citzenship in the States and has just graduated from high school in Sendai, and is en-route back to the Big Apple for whatever. She has saved enough money to buy an airplane ticket and has saved around 300,000 yens extra to meet some additional expenses, but gets greedy for more money and while making a softcore video in a high school uniform gets caught in a setup raid by the producers where she’s robbed of all her nest egg. Her non-refundable flight is tomorrow, so she has 24 hours to get back the money. To her rescue come two enterprising high-gals, Jonko and Raku. They scheme to rip off the middle-aged men marks as they use a stun gun to rob one whore-mongering mark, another old professor client gets off just wanting companionship and to talk about his army war years where he did illicit experiments on Korean women as he complains that he has been just labeled as a war criminal. But when the high-gals mess with some brothers things get botched. One of the brothers is a corrupt government bureaucrat, and when he gets robbed he screams to his underground sources. Meanwhile his brother is a karate expert, and foils the robbery attempt by a girl named Maru as he beats her so badly she’s hospitalized and loses an eye. Maru just had an abortion the other day, then ran into trouble when the mark she picked up turned out to be a dangerous yakuza boss (Koji Yakusho). He took her ID and cell phone, and told her she owed him 100,000 yens or else she becomes his property. The yakuza boss also warns Jonko, who is the hard-assed lady pimp for the high-gals, that she’s cutting into his business and better stop or else. It seems to be a pro versus amateur thing, though the gangster realizes everything in society is corrupt and so eases up and acts paternal to Jonko. She reminds him of his teenage daughter, and he’s also impressed with her business skills as she charges high fees and her gals manage most of the time to get out of giving sex to their clients.
Hanada spends too much time comparing the gangsters, teenage prostitutes and perverse marks with the corrupt government officials. There’s nothing fresh uncovered. That is, unless there’s a foreign cultural thing that got by my jaded American view of the world and this is all new to the Japanese (if so, they must be in denial). But evidently, this film must have resonated in Japan, as the film’s Lolita-fetish caused quite a storm when it opened and made the film a hot property in the Ginza. But for me this was merely another meaningless exploitation flick, and to boot it was more dull than amusing. It annoyed me further as it seemed to be only posturing that it was hip and had so much heart, when in reality it was didactic with little to say. Even the female bonding part, showing their loyalty and need for friendship, seemed disengaging.
REVIEWED ON 9/28/2003 GRADE: C-
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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