Thursday, November 12, 2009

Gokusen: The Movie (ごくせん The Movie)


Gokusen is based on a Japanese manga which became a highly popular television drama series, and going by the response of the audience, it's likely that many fans have turned up in droves just to catch the latest installment of their favourite inspirational teacher Yankumi, played in quite a schizophrenic manner by Yukie Naakama, befitting of the character who's balancing her school life with the legacy of who she actually is.

Which is being the heir to the Oedo yakuza family as granddaughter of the boss, primed to take over the family triad business if not for her desire to live her dream, which is to teach. In the television series starring just about the same cast who made it to this film extension, plenty of comedy stem from her attempts at keeping her true identity a secret, despite lapses sometimes in using Gangster lingo, which we do get glimpses of here, but being lost in translation.

Simply put, this story is based upon a typical tale of an inspirational teacher who never stops believing in her students, no matter how hopeless they seem in their academics. We don't get to see a lot of classroom lessons here (almost zilch), but what we do get, is how Yankumi, through her sincere actions and care for her students, win her delinquent charges over, and impart some important life lessons, which will probably propel them further in life, if not setting them out on a clear, strong foundation. Two simple values become what's core, and that's never to lie, and to live life with pride and dignity.

But that doesn't means she's a softie O Captain My Captain. When push comes to shove, her innate abilities to solve things in gangster style, exaggerated of course for comedic effect, means she's never one to shy away from fights, especially completing those started by her students. Metaphorically, it's a fight for her students to wake up their ideas, to keep them from being bullied and to be safe from harm. For her young age, she behaves somewhat like a mother hen, ever protective of her charges, extending the notion of being a teacher for life to all her students, the entire three generations worth which get their respective air time in this feature film.

And that naturally meant that the narrative is split quite evenly, one that addresses her current pupil's problems with a biker gang, one to solve her ex-student's alleged involvement with drug trafficking which formed the bulk all the way to the finale, and one of her earliest students being posted to the Akadou High School as a trainee teacher, where she is currently teaching, thinking that she had inspired him to follow in her footsteps. The film felt that it's providing some closure to some of the earlier drama series, especially in the epilogue where it takes some pains to bring back prominent cast members for a quick canonical updating session.

Those not acquainted with either the television or manga series may feel a little left out when obvious references to those material get made, although it doesn't dictate that prior background knowledge is pre-requisite to enjoy this. To do so, you've to accept that there is room for plenty of quirky, over the top comedy, ranging from deliberate over-acting (especially with Yukie Nakama's act cute antics) to cheesy sound effects that made it look all too cartoony.

Definitely one for the fans, with non-fans able to join in the fun, and probably get their interest piqued in what they've missing out on thus far.

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