It all began one day on break.
It was a Thursday, for it is on those days that
I become most cinematically adventurous. In Japan,
movie tickets are rather expensive. For a normal
ticket for a good theater, the cost is 1800 yen.
This is quite a jump from the four or five dollar
matinee showings I went to in the Midwest when
I was reviewing movies for a small town newspaper.
However, the frugal movie consumer has ways to
circumvent extreme expenses. One of those ways
is to buy an advance ticket, which drops the price
by 500 yen. However, even better are the special
deal days. There are a number of these, including
special deals on the first day of the month, but
the one that blesses me most is Thursday—men's
day, when tickets cost a "mere" one
thousand yen. (For those wondering, women's day
is Wednesday.) Being on vacation, I started trolling
the film schedules for a possible Japanese film
to view. There was one title that especially caught
my eye—Check It Out, Yo! It looked
like goofy fun with a suitably simplistic plot,
a ridiculous title (which is often to a movie's
credit, in my opinion) and music provided by the
rap band Orange Range. I own several of their
CDs, so I was quite curious. It seemed perfect
to sate my movie appetite.
Something kept me from going that
day. Maybe I started thinking about the cost of
train tickets or other reasonable nonsense. My
day-out died, but my interest didn't, and when
later I found Check It Out, Yo! at the
local rental store down the street, and witnessed
those tantalizing kanji indicating English subtitles,
I could see my filmic fulfillment just several
feet and several hundred yen away. However, cheapskate
that I am, I waited for the title to age a little,
that it might make the journey off the "Hot
New!" rack and into the "Old Cheap!"
section. Unfortunately, after the film had made
that transition, it seemed everyone was obeying
its command and checking it out in droves every
weekend. Ah, but patience pays, and my latest
renting expedition paid indeed—or at least,
I did, for the privilege of carrying back said
title for hopeful viewing pleasure, which I accomplished
just last night. Let's get into this, shall we?
Okinawa. Land of Pat Morita, a
multitude of Shisa statues and progenitor of many
popular J-pop bands, like D-51 and, yes, Orange
Range. In this fabled land, a marriage party is
taking place. Enter Toru (Hayato Ichihara, 2003's Yomigaeri, Ju-On 2), high school dork and whiny loser—literally.
Like Charlie Brown, he always loses—especially
at janken (Japan's version of Rock-Paper-Scissors).
His friend, tomboy tough girl Yui (Mao Inoue),
is trying to get Toru to help out at her sister's
wedding. She, Tetsuo (Yuta Hiraoka, 2004's Swing
Girls) and Akira (Tasuku Emoto) force
him to become the butt of a gag for the wedding
entertainment, and in the process his first kiss
is stolen from him—by his male friend Akira.
(No, Akira isn't gay. Do you really want to know?
Just watch the movie.)
That night, still a bit frustrated,
Toru is at his job, cleaning the floor of a local,
gorgeous aquarium. As he is cleaning, he suddenly
notices a beautiful young woman (Ayumi Ito, Curtain
Call) swimming in the tank with the tropical
fish and rays and such. When she disappears, he
thinks she is in trouble and tries to rescue her
and ends up being rescued himself—by that
vision of womanly wonderfulness herself. He goes
gaga over her in a big way, and when friend Yui
takes him and his friends to a concert by band
Workaholic, he decides to start his own rap/rock
band with Akira and Tetsuo in order to win her
heart, and also because it's so stinking cool.
The IMDB lists Check It Out,
Yo! as a drama and a musical. It may not be
obvious from the plot description, but a drama
this is not. I wouldn't really classify it as
a musical, either, since most of the singing comes
in concert scenes. Check It Out, Yo! is
more a comedy than a drama, and a goofy one at
that, including such wild sights as a dead grandmother
floating in a giant bubble and giving prophecies
and lots of over-the-top acting. As a comedy,
it only half-succeeds. While some of the writing
is pretty clever, many of the jokes fall flatter
than Bambi after he met Godzilla. A scene where
the male characters are following a bikini-clad
babe with their faces inches from her bottom is
more painful than funny, and the acting often
drags the funny meter even lower.
First, Hayato Ichihara as Toru
is inconsistent. As a leading character, at least
in this movie, he doesn't come across as very
strong. When he is called upon to do the more
comedic sequences, he eagerly and energetically
obliges—but he just isn't very funny. He
doesn't have whatever it is that makes Jim Carrey's
facial gymnastics fun. His more dramatic scenes
come off much better, and he is also impressively
athletic. It is clear why he was chosen for the
Mao Inoue as Yui doesn't have Ichihara's
problem—she's consistent. Consistently mediocre.
She handed in perhaps the most annoying performance,
and was the worst offender in the overacting category.
As in many movies, she seems largely to have been
cast because she is cute.
Ayumi Ito as Toru's love interest
comes off better. Her character is emotionally
distant and a bit confusing, but Ito is good at
playing the sexy flirt. Actually, a lot of the
minor characters are more fun than some of the
mains. While Yui's sister is even more annoying
than Yui, her husband, played by sumo wrestler
Konishiki (who also had a part in The Fast
and the Furious: Tokyo Drift) is amusing,
and even gets his chance to rap. (It should be
noted that most of the rap in this film, when
not a part of a concert, is pretty horrendous.)
I always enjoy seeing Yuta Hiraoka, who has a
great screen personality—and he must really
love these music movie parts, seeing as he was
in this, Swing
Girls (2004) and Nana (2005). Finally, the fathers of the characters
are often quite humorous—except when they
try to rap.
Music, as the credits list it,
was created by Orange Range, so be ready for lots
of sample-heavy hip-hop playing over montages
and concert scenes. Orange Range is a bit controversial
in Japan—some people feel they sample too
freely from other musicians, or practically steal
whole songs, such as with their hit "Locolotion,"
which is very similar to the golden oldie "The
Locomotion." Be that as it may, they are
quite good at crafting catchy hooks and danceable
beats, and it fits well with this film especially.
Other than the roaring pop tunes, more subdued,
acoustic-guitar-driven melodies dominate the soundtrack
and underscore emotionally tender moments or whimsical
scenes fairly well. They actually reminded me
of some of the pleasant work done on Swing Girls.
Thus, the question: was it worth
the wait? Was it worth such knuckle-gnawing suspense?
Well, I'm not too upset that I didn't go to see
it in theaters, but Check It Out, Yo! is
mildly entertaining candy cinema anyway and is
worth a watch for those looking for J-pop driven