Thursday, March 22, 2012

[HKIFF 2012 Review] Go! Boys' School Drama Club (行け!男子高校演劇部 / Ike! Danshi Koko Engekibu)


Two key reasons that induced me to watch this are that it stars Aoi Nakamura in the lead role, where the last I saw him was in Beck, being the relatively quiet member of the troupe, and here leading the charge as an extremely loud-mouthed character. The other is of course wanting to see how bold and outrageous the titular drama club can get in their performance, because after all it's Japan we're talking about and their game shows are tremendous in innovation and creativity, that one can expect to be wildly entertained. And this film by Tsutomu Hanabusa (who did Handsome Suits) doesn't disappoint at all.

We follow Genki Oga (Aoi Nakamura) and his best friend Kaji Owada (Sosuke Ikematsu, who was in Dive!!) in their freshman year in Ikematsu Boys High School, where they have to enrol into an enrichment club. Oga has one sole objective, and that's to join something where the girls will fawn over him. But he got mesmerized by a girl in Romeo and Juliet, rushes to sign up for the theatre club, and finds out that "Juliet" is none other than a guy in drag - it's a boy's school after all. Suckered into joining the club and becoming its leader, and for reasons unexplained he didn't walk out of this sudden responsibility being dropped on his lap, and takes it upon himself, together with members Ueda (Keisuke Tomita) whom nobody can seem to see, and Joe (Naofumi Kaneko), the shakespeare wannabe, to try and keep the club afloat, threatened to disband and have their club house taken away should they not come up with at least five members.

In the classic three act structure, recruitment forms the first act, and you can imagine the many silly situations the characters find themselves in when finding suitable classmates, made worst when girls only seem to be interested in jocks, and those joining drama clubs are gross. With the help of student advisor Mr Kanda (Tetsuhiro Ikeda), himself being relatively perverse with a deep fetish for sweet young females, they soon pull enough numbers to keep the club afloat, and soon get into shenanigans such as trying to learn from the best in the school business of theatre, by posing as girls and infiltrating the drama club of an all girls school. It is here that Oga meets Mai (Yua Shinkawa), whom he unilaterally swears to save her, and everyone else, from their tyrannical drama school teacher Kaneko (Masako Chiba).

Go! Boys School Drama Club is peppered by comedy at every turn, and has enough quirky characters to be put in equally quirky scenarios to make this one heck of an absurdist comedy, designed with ridiculously funny set comedy acts to elicit plenty of laughter from an audience. The second act is where things get ramped up narratively as the club members practice their production, and puts out a relatively disastrous first play for senior citizens, and exposes each character for their lack of performance experience, again played up for laughs. Sticking to a formula of having a bunch of misfits band together for a common goal may be done to death before, but it's the on screen charisma of Aoi Nakamura as the fearless (and many times clueless) leader of the troupe, and the many shenanigans as written by Tetsuhiro Ikeda, makes this very much worthwhile to sit through.

But the payload comes in the final act when the gang puts out their performance for the theatre festival, based on Henry's The Last Leaf, where the play develops in real time under very meta circumstance, telling of a moving story and delivering it quite by accident in even more moving terms that begs to be seen. If this is not about camaraderie, and about quick thinking on one's feet and taking that giant leap of faith, then I do not know what is. It's a fitting finale that's both comical and touching, and perhaps subtly reminds us that in every art there's always something that's reserved for an elite few, and there's always something else that appeals to the masses. Clearly the competition here distinguishes between the two, especially the latter when the Ikematsu boys take over, to remind everyone that there's always time in serious situations to be laughing at ourselves while still staying true to the spirit of things.

With plenty of sight gags and sub plots to pad this less than 90 minute movie, some of these aspects can actually be dropped, if only to serve a spectrum of scenes for an audience, such as a needless romance between the canteen lady being wooed by a student, or the sight gags such as Oga's lunchbox almost always having his food shaped like religious figures. Even Kentucky Fried Chicken isn't off the hook in this, while being product placement, I thought it was something effectively done, and done with unexpected comedy. Recommended!

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