Friday, April 29, 2011

Gokusen: The Movie (Japan 2009)

What's this!? A movie for the much-loved, long-running Japanese drama of the same name? Consider me intrigued! Having been a fan of the three "seasons" of Gokusen, I was curious to see how well the show's material would translate to a film version. Well, it's over-the-top, both in acting and in premise, it's overly-dramatic, cheesy at times, and has no shortage of laughs and heart. This is definitely Gokusen (ごくせん THE MOVIE).

Gokusen: the movie starts with our loveable heroine Yamaguchi Kumiko, aka "Yankumi" (Nakama Yukie), in one of her most absurd scenarios yet. Along with two of her fellow teachers, (Takano Aoi and Ayukawa Sakura), Yankumi is returning from her summer trip to Hawaii, asleep on the plane and completely oblivious to the fact that it's being hijacked by terrorists. While everyone is silently freaking out, as usual, nothing seems to unsettle our bubbly Ojou (princess for the uninitiated). Side note: Yankumi was next in line to be the 4th generation leader of her Yakuza family but her heart led her to teaching. Making quick work of the hijackers, Yankumi returns to her regular life of being a teacher of the delinquents class, 3-D, at Akadou academy. Now principal, Sawatori Goro (Namase Katsuhisa), tells Yankumi that they're expecting a student teacher and that she'll be overseeing his experience at Akadou. Much to their surprise, Odagiri Ryu from Gokusen 2 (Kamenashi Kazuya), walks through the door as the unlikely teacher-in-training. Beaming proudly, Yankumi introduces Odagiri to her new class of trouble-makers, led by Takasugi Reita (Yuta Tamamori) and his four cohorts. Of course these kids get involved in a mess by mouthing off to the wrong guys, in this case the Black Skulls motorcycle gang, and Reita uses his fists to settle the matter. Of course the Black Skulls aren't going to leave it alone and Reita challenges them all on his own in an attempt to spare his friends. Naturally, he gets the stuffing beat of out of him, but Yankumi refuses to let anything happen to her precious students, so she arrives just in time to make quick work of the Skulls, with a little help from Odagiri. Yankumi's actions once again open the eyes of her students in that they can in fact trust her, a teacher, and that she'll always be there to protect them. She's had this affect on all of her past students, and the cast from Gokusen 3 are here to show their life after high school. Ren Kazama (Haruma Miura) is working, but not earning enough so he takes on a night job that promises big money for little effort. Never a good idea right? Turns out life isn't that easy and he soon discovers that he's helping to smuggle drugs. Now he's on the run from the police and is reluctant to involve his friends and Yankumi. So, just whose drugs are these anyway? Well the charming, successful, soon-to-be politician Kentaro Kurose (Ikki Sawamura), of course! Apparently this guy isn't as honest and down-to-earth as people are perceiving and he's really all about money and power. Using Kazama as a drug smuggler does not sit well with Yankumi, as you can imagine, so she'll do whatever it takes to bring this corrupt businessman down and protect her precious students at all cost.

Oh I get it. The story is a bit nutty, but somehow within the world of Gokusen, it all makes sense. One of the biggest challenges this movie succeeds at, and where many fail, is making a successful transition from a television drama to a feature film. The filmmakers do a good job at making it accessible to the uninitiated, but fear not Gokusen faithful because there is a ton of fan service going on here, especially in regards to familiar faces making cameos. Some of the over-the-top performances and silly comedic elements, such as cartoon-ish sound effects, CG usage, and heavy dramatic moments might seem odd to those unfamiliar with the show, but again, it's all in the vein of why people fell in love with Gokusen in the first place. Yankumi's co-workers are all teachers from Gokusen 3 and she interacts with a lot of her past students. This will all mean a lot more to those who watched the series, so in that respect, someone just watching the movie on it's own might not get that nostalgic feeling or that desire to point at the screen and say, "oh, there's ____!". That being said, the story felt like just a way to get all of these characters back together and to give the audience and long-time viewers some closure on the series and all the characters they grew to love. I feel like this is the end of the series and they did a great job with wrapping up the loose ends. Again, that won't mean much to newcomers, but there's still a fun, action/drama/comedy here with a lot of pulling-on-the-heartstrings moments and characters that you can instantly take to.

I'm a bit conflicted as to how to grade Gokusen: THE MOVIE because your overall experience with it weighs largely on whether or not you followed the series. If you did, there's no reason to dislike the film. It gives fans everything they could've wanted and then some. If you didn't, I really believe there's still an entertaining film here, but probably one-too-many fan-service elements to recommend it wholeheartedly to those unfamiliar with the show. Either way, it's a fun way to kill a couple of hours and a fitting end to a series that had a good run. Fight - OH! (Lee)

Grade: B

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