Check It Out, Yo! (2006)
Nicholas Driscoll
April 15, 2007
Note: review may contain spoilers

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 role.

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 movie fun.