Sunday, August 7, 2011

Beck (Japan 2010)

No surprise here (at least in terms of Japanese entertainment), but Beck (ベック) is the live-action adaptation of the manga and anime of the same name. I don't see a lot of anime, but I did see Beck and I thought it was alright (review possibly to come?), and it's generally fun to see how they bring a cartoon to life. The live-action Beck however, wasn't fun. Go figure.

The story of Beck centers around a quiet loner by the name of Yukio "Koyuki" Tanaka (Takeru Sato), a seemingly average middle-school student without any real direction or desires in life. To make matters even more cliche, he's always on the butt-end of the bullying stick. He doesn't really know where his interests lie and by chance, or fate, he runs into the English-speaking, yet very Japanese, Ryusuke Minami (Hiru Mizushima), by helping Ryusuke's dog Beck from being bullied by a bunch of gaijin (foreigners!). Ryusuke is obviously thankful to Koyuki and the two hit it off. Koyuki soon discovers that his new friend is an amazingly talented guitar player by witnessing Ryusuke perform live. This, as you can imagine, was a life-altering moment for young Koyuki as he was able to witness the awesomeness of guitar and live music in all it's glory. Koyuki now knows that he wants to learn to play the guitar and begins taking lessons with an eccentric middle-aged man named Saito (Takanori Takeyama). He also meet's Ryusuke's younger sister Maho (Shiori Kutsuna), a spunky, firecracker of a girl who has no problem telling people how she feels, in English no less! Naturally, Koyuki's sparks fly when he sets his sights on Maho, but the attraction isn't exactly going both ways. Meanwhile, trouble brews in Ryusuke's band because the "leader", Eiji (Kensei Mikami), seems to be more concerned with the band's image than the music. The two guitarists go their separate ways and vow to each start the best band possible. Dun dun dun! Ryusuke begins recruiting different musicians from around town that are well-known for their specific abilities. He grabs Taira (Osamu Mukai) for his killer bass skills and battle-rapper Chiba (Kenta Kiritani), for his vocal ability and energy. Saku (Aoi Nakamura), is a transfer student that just started at Koyuki's school. He strikes up an instant kinship with Koyuki because of their shared interest in Dying Breed, the million-selling American band that Ryusuke introduced Koyuki to. Ryusuke and Eddie (Dying Breed's guitarist) ran the streets together in New York and decided to break into a car, stealing the dog, Beck, and a guitar with bullet-holes in it named Lucille. Trust me, this comes into play later on. Back in the now, a wonderful coincidence occurs, Saku is a great drummer and Koyuki has gotten pretty darn good at guitar from months of non-stop practice. Could they two be the missing links for Ryusuke's upstart band? You wouldn't be foolish to think so dear readers. During a meeting, in which to come up with a name for the band, Chiba suggests, "Beck", in reference to Ryusuke's dog. Everyone thinks it's a little weird at first but decide to go with it.

Soon, Beck are making a name for themselves by playing a lot of shows around town and releasing their own E.P. However, Eiji's new band, "Belle Ame", are making an even bigger name for themselves by recruiting pretty-boy actor, and friend of Maho, Yoshito (Yuta Furukawa), as their singer and by having one of the biggest, and most evil promoters in the game, Ran (Shido Nakamura), backing them. I said it would come back to haunt us, but the guitar Lucille was stolen from Leon Sykes (Cinque Lee), a famous-yet-villainous promoter from America. He saw footage of Ryusuke playing Lucille on-stage and wants his guitar back. Beck is approached by Sato Kazuo (Yuki Matsushita), a woman driven to fulfill the wish of her deceased sister by booking the Grateful Sound Festival with real quality rock bands. She feels that the festival her sister started before her passing has gone downhill in recent years and believes that Beck would be perfect for the lineup. Beck, of course, would love the opportunity but Ran stands in their way. This dude has some clout. So Ryusuke, having an uncomfortable meeting with Leon Sykes, then has the nerve to ask Leon for help in getting Beck in the festival. Leon, presumably intrigued at Ryusuke's gall, agrees to let Beck in one condition...a condition that Ryusuke agrees to. So Beck are in, and will have their opportunity to face off with Belle Ame, but at what cost?

Good Lord, I didn't realize how much nonsense went on in Beck until I started writing my review for it. That, in and of itself, is my biggest problem with the anime and the movie. The story is, to be frank, overly-complicated, to the point where it detracts from what is actually interesting and engaging about Beck; the characters and their journey to make music together. The Leon Sykes storyline is a mess and feels like an unnecessary last-minute attempt at creating drama and tension. The same can be said for the story of the guitar Lucille and how it got the bullet holes in it. It's simply not as interesting as just following these guys and the ins-and-outs of the music industry. I'm also going to point out that there is quite a bit of English in this movie (and the anime) due to Ryusuke and Maho having spent time abroad, but my God, I found it incredibly annoying and distracting because of how bad their English sounds. Hey, don't get me wrong, kudos for trying in the first place, but it's pretty cringe-worthy, as is most of the English acting from everyone else. Also, in the anime, it turns out Koyuki has a pretty solid singing voice and sings quite well in English. In the live-action movie, they play some generic music over Koyuki's vocals so you don't get to hear him sing. They do this throughout to the point where it feels like it's an intentionally huge build-up and you'll finally get to hear him belt out a tune at Grateful Sound. However, they do the same thing at the music festival! They play music over his vocals so you don't hear him!! What is that!? Every time he sings in the movie they make it seem like an angel came down from heaven and whispered in their ears, but yet the viewing audience gets a giant middle-finger from the filmmakers. To the man or woman responsible for making that decision, resulting in an absolute climactic finale failure: fuck you. You may be wondering if I liked anything about the live-action Beck movie. Well, not much. I thought the casting, in terms of looks, was pretty solid and they all seemed to be playing their instruments, or at least doing a darn good job at acting like it. They also tried to follow the anime storyline as much as possible and I suppose that should be commended but oh how time can be an enemy. Hmm, that's all I got for positives.

You would think that an ideal as simple as friends starting a band to jam would be a lot more simple than this, but Beck chose the route of trying to do too much. The anime worked (mostly), because it had around 27 episodes to tell the story, but the film is a 2 and 1/2 hour bore-fest with far too many shortcuts taken. It's a poor example of fan-service, which is ironic because only fans of Beck will watch this crap, and non-fans will wonder the heck is going on. When compared to the anime and possibly the manga, it's just a real disappointment. (Lee)

Grade: D

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