Film Reviews: Fly Boys, Fly! (1995); Shoot!/Hit the Goal (1994)
KimuTaku: The Wonder Years
by Ender’s Girl
Ever wondered what kept Kimura busy before 1996, the year he starred in Long Vacation and became THE KimuTaku, Supreme Japanese Heartthrob? (Lol) Well, he did four movies (see Part One of reviews below), which I’ve lumped together not based on any similarities in plot content (thematically they’re quite a mixed bunch), but because they made up the First Wave of Kimura’s filmography — back when he was still KimuTaku 1.0 (circa his late teens to early twenties). It’s also much easier to group them chronologically, given that Kimura took a 9-year hiatus from films (a lifetime in movie industry reckoning!) before resurfacing in 2004 as Serious Actor Kimura (Who Works with Auteurs! and Real Filmmakers!) in Wong Kar Wai’s 2046, albeit in a supporting role.
Since 2004, Kimura has been making one film a year, and 4 times out of 5 with such internationally respected filmmakers as Miyazaki, Yamada Yoji and Tran Anh Hung, aside from Wong Kar Wai. This is not to say, though, that all of his recent forays into SeriousActorLand have been critically praised. (Separate film reviews to follow.) But as of press time, KimuTaku’s latest flick — Space Battleship Yamato — is in the offing. Could this be the dawning of a new era in his film career, i.e. KimuTaku the Movie Star? Hmmm… *strokes chin* (Read my Space Battleship Yamato review)
Anyway, back to the KimuTaku 1.0 movies. Despite being commercially friendly fare, they’re not particularly memorable, and they do suffer from low-tech production values (i.e. poor audio/video quality, laughable special effects) aka The Bane of Pre-Digital Revolution Movies. Artistically, the overall direction is uninspired, the writing nothing special either — with draggy plots and tepid character treatments. So you really WON’T be missing out on much should you pass on these flicks. But for the Kimura Completist, this could prove to be a veritable goldmine of his earliest work, in which his raw talent, despite being a little rough around the edges, is already quite noticeable.
Kimi wo Wasurenai / Fly Boys, Fly!
(1995; d. Watanabe Takayoshi)
Karasawa Toshiaki, Kimura Takuya, Sorimachi Takashi, Hakamada Yoshihiko, Matsumura Kunihiro
In a Nutshell:
In the final months of the Second World War, six young Japanese pilots are recruited to train as a kamikaze squadron under their ace captain.
(SpoilLert: They’re kamikaze pilots. Whaddaya think happens???)
What are kamikaze units made of? The Crack Team Leader (Karasawa Toshiaki) with a chip on his shoulder (i.e. dumped his fiancée, bad relationship with military dad)? Check. The Angry Young Rebel (Kimura Takuya) with an even bigger chip on his shoulder (i.e. grows hair long, illegitimate son, hates Crack Team Leader for dumping fiancée because he’s secretly in love with her — or something)? Check. The Overweight Funnyman who tries so hard to keep up? Check. The Gung-Ho War Freak (Sorimachi Takashi) who strikes an unlikely friendship with a puppy? Check. The Moody Loner who joins the mission so he can give his young wife and child a good future? The two Lads Who Fall in Love — one with a geisha, the other with a chaste school girl? Check, check, check.
There is no battle action in this movie because it focuses on the squadron’s relationship dynamics as they undergo training for the Big Hit. You got six (seven, with their leader) hot-blooded male pilots, ready to die for their country and smoldering for action. Put them all together under one roof for a couple of months, and watch as all the inevitable complications arise from this volatile living arrangement: Fights! Drama! Unresolved Issues! Funny/Embarrassing Encounters with the Ladies! Key Moments of Introspection! And oh, yeah, the Flight Training!
The whole movie (more than 2 hours long) feels tedious and drawn-out (mostly due to shoddy editing, and with too many unnecessary scenes and protracted sub-plots), and I had to finish this thing in three installments (after hitting the Zzzz’s, uh, twice). Although the other characters are given their share of Touching Moments (e.g. Moody Loner’s family farewell, or Laddie Boy’s geisha goodbye), only the characters of Karasawa Toshiaki (as Capt. Moshizuki Shinpei) and Kimura (as Lt. Ueda Junichiro) really grip you. The insanely good-looking Karasawa Toshiaki (good choice, good choice, Yamaguchi Tomoko, lolz) ably delivers as the coolly rational squadron leader who keeps his emotions (fears, longings, regrets, etc.) in check. Kimura provides an interesting counterpoint as the Angry Young Pilot — brash but talented, with fire (or, faiah!) in his belly. It’s later explained why Kimura has an axe to grind against Karasawa (something to do with Karasawa’s jilted girlfriend whom Kimura also loves, and Karasawa having left the frontline a while back), but really, the writing could’ve done without the intermingled back stories. Why put one in the first place? To make the characters more… meaty? That’s lazy writing. Great writing lays the groundwork for a character, but doesn’t rely on such plot crutches as A Shared Past! Conflict in Their History! to squeeze out that person’s temperament, or motivation, or true nature, or moral fiber, or what have you. But, well. Having something to fight about (i.e. You! Left! Your! Girlfriend! Behind! You! Left! The! Mission!) sure adds to the drama, ne?
But as for the chemistry among the boys… hmmm, that’s a tough one. It somehow felt a little forced. By the end of the movie I still wasn’t convinced that those seven pilots had really, truly forged a bond of brotherhood (promised in life, to be realized in death), in a way that was so effortlessly shown in Great War Dramas like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. But then I doubt Fly Boys, Fly! ever had such… lofty ambitions, ne? I also felt the movie focused too little on the rigors of their training which, according to historical accounts, was both physically and psychologically cruel — with regular beatings and other forms of corporal punishment. Okay, so maybe the filmmakers wanted to make this movie as audience-friendly as possible. But they could have at least included more scenes showing the pilots’ tactical training, i.e. which Allied military targets to hit, which part of the vessel to aim for, how to maximize the element of surprise, and even alternative courses of action should their mission fail. Showing the tactical training could have made the story much livelier, IMO. (Well, I am a war movie freak, so…)
And at the end of this all-too-brief interlude on the air base looms the inevitable sword of Damocles: THE MISSION. You know early on that Fly Boys, Fly! is really Die Boys, Die!, but whatever your opinion on its ethicality, ritual suicide is as deeply ingrained in Japanese history as any other of its cultural hallmarks: FACT. The Imperial Japanese Navy and Air Force deployed roughly 4,000 successful suicide missions during the last phase of the War in the Pacific, targeting Allied carriers and vessels: FACT. But taking that as it is, whichever side of the War your own country was on, you can’t help but feel deep respect and admiration for those young men who so readily sacrificed their lives for their country — as any true soldier would for his.
The film’s biggest triumph is in putting a human face on War: before these boys were pilots, they were persons first — husbands, sons, brothers. The scene that touched me the most wasn’t the final scene (where the pilots march bravely off the tarmac and into their respective planes as the air base personnel send them off with beatific smiles — looked a tad too hokey and… propagandist to me, sorry). Rather, it was the scene from the eve of The Mission, aka The Last Supper, where the flyboys enjoy a final repast as they contemplate the fate laid out before them. You know that in less than 24 hours they will all most likely be dead, yet they never seem more alive, and have so much to LIVE FOR, than they do in this moment of sobriety and heartrending bravado. The film also highlights the routine of everyday life — morning ablutions, brushing their teeth — which the boys find odd to be doing on their last day. But they carry on with their routine — so normal and ordinary — because it reminds them of what it’s like to still be alive.
This film doesn’t crash and burn with the suicide mission; rather, it ends on a luminously reassuring note. As the final scene segues into the credits, you no longer think of war, or suicide missions, or death. The camera remains aloft and soars even higher through azure skies scattered with fleecy clouds, a wide-open heaven undefiled by the smoke and gunfire of war. So this is what true PEACE feels like, and you wish with all your heart that these seven flyboys have found it at last.
Artistic & technical merit: C+
Entertainment value: D
Shoot! / Hit the Goal
(1994; d. Omori Kazuki)
SMAP! …and Mizuno Miki
In a Nutshell:
A fractious high school football team regroups under their returning captain, as they dream of taking their school to the finals of the All Japan High School Soccer Tournament.
(SpoilLert: One WHOPPER spoiler! Like anyone still cares!)
The hook: I’ve always had a… THING for soccer players (something about the body type and the uniform and the inherent cool factor of their sport), and KimuTaku in full football gear looks positively, drooliciously gooood!
I didn’t care much for the story or the writing — quite predictable and silly, but then that really isn’t the point, is it? It’s all about dressing SMAP up in short, short shorts and soccer cleats, and literally watching them have a ball (haha) out on the field. This is really Nakai’s story but he isn’t very convincing as a male lead… Come to think of it, he ain’t convincing as a high school student, either… NONE of them is, mebbe except for Li’l Baby Goro or Li’l Shingo, hehe. The rest look too old for high school. And Nakai is just… Nakai, in other words personable if a bit… bland (sorry, Nakai). BUT he plays football almost like a pro, and Tsuyoshi is a pretty good athlete, too. Mori ain’t a bad goalie, Shingo just looks awkward, and Goro isn’t given enough screen time to create an impact. Blink and you’ll miss him, unless you’re a SMAP fan. (But then you wouldn’t even be watching this movie if you weren’t a SMAP fan, so there.)
The sports action sequences were executed and edited surprisingly well, I must say…. although it amused me no end how the director (or cinematographer) just loooved to slow-mo Kimura’s soccer field heroics, framing every shot of his in balletic perfection, lol. Can’t blame him, though. Damn, but Kimura (as the captain ball Yoshiharu Kubo, the Jock with a Heart) is smokin’ HOT here, so virile and athletic and nimble with the footwork, heh heh heh. But he also figures in the story’s biggest WTF! moment, when his character (apparently nursing a weak heart, unbeknownst to everyone else) suddenly collapses on the soccer field after single-handedly scoring a decisive goal in the playoffs. The hammy histrionics that ensue when the bereaved team come to grips with Kubo’s death are… highly entertaining, lol. And I must admit that with Kimura’s character absent from the remaining third of the movie (except as a ghostly memory that visits Nakai in one of the final scenes), I found it physically painful to schlep through the rest of the film without KimuTaku’s validating presence (lol). I just kept thinking, who cares if their stupid school wins the championship game now… what’s the effin’ point? (Mwahahaha.) Anyway, you still go “awww…” as Nakai (now the leadah! leadah!) rallies his discouraged, decimated, dark-horse team all the way to the finals. So do they win? It’s a long shot… but what do YOU think? *winks*
Shoot!/Hit the Goal also provides that added dimension of nostalgia for old SMAP fans (i.e. “Awww, remember when Mori was still with the bunch? Remember when they were all such skinny li’l striplings?” *wipes away tear*), and also satisfies the curiosity of newer fans (i.e. “What did SMAP look like in their callow youth?” lol) — AND serves as trivia fodder for the J-Pop otaku of the world (i.e. Alex Trebec: “Title of the last movie that featured the Japanese boy band SMAP as a six-member unit…” Otaku contestant: “What is Shoot!/Hit the Goal???” Lol).
Watch this if you’re:
1) A Kimura completist
2) A happy Smappy
3) A football aficionado
4) Gay! (All those short, short shorts that barely cover all those tan, muscular thighs — bonusss!!! Heh heh heh.)
Artistic & technical merit: C+
Entertainment value: C
Photo credits: jessygirl @ D-Addicts.com