Thursday, January 7, 2010

Be a Man! Samurai School (2008)

Not even a month into the New Year’s Resolution and something’s made me break format! Why? Because it’s Be a Man! Samurai School’s live action adaptation written and directed by Tak Sakaguchi, the star of Versus. And because Samurai School has everything! Swords, blood that stains like Kool-Aid, manga style over-the-top fight scenes, and 45 year old men playing first year high schoolers. What does a co-ed school have that the Be a Man! Samurai School doesn’t? Nothing! Not even cheerleaders! Plus it has the super-secret Samurai School Cheer-Until-Your-Throat-Bleeds mystical power!

The movie was adapted from the manga of the same name by Akira Miyashita. Tak Sakaguchi of Death Trance, Versus, and Shinobi did this adaptation all on his own. Well not entirely. He had the help of the camera man from Death Trance, Shinji Fujita, whose love of close-ups is infuriating when flush-faced fan girls want full body shots. Tak Sakaguchi came out of nowhere after being discovered beating someone up on the sidewalk by the beloved Riyuhei Kitamura of Versus, Midnight Meat Train, and…the upcoming American version of Versus. The movie also stars Tak’s Versus co-star Hideo Sakaki.

All this is taking up too much time from the story synopsis so I will close it by saying that Tak’s adaptation of the manga that ran from 1985-1991 is brilliant. I forgot it was live-action at times! (Usually I do that the other way around, forget I’m watching animation when watching an anime, but that’s another story) I cannot wait to see what he does next, and am crossing my fingers that it’s a live-action version of Naruto with himself playing Sasuke.

The bespectacled computer geek, the pony-tailed sexy guy, the ugly brute, the pompadoured and pampered weakling, and the mysterious leader of the first year students, all essential manga cast, are right here in Samurai School. The first year students are led by none other than Tak Sakaguchi’s character Momo. He is a man-to-be of few words, but they are words of wisdom. First year students at Samurai School exist to clean up the broken glass from the all-powerful voice of the school principal, defend themselves from second years and rampaging drill instructors, save the school from renegade ex-students from a rival school, and fight to the death in a 300 year old battle at Mt. Fuji. Life isn’t easy at Samurai School.

But it is full of punishment, loincloths, and battles with lithe villains who can kill with the power of their sheer bishounen wickedness.

Momo gathers the outcasts of Samurai School under his strong wing by protecting them from bullies, helping with rudimentary math problems, and giving them something to day dream about while raising the school’s flag which bears the dramatic kanji character for MAN. When a rival school attacks, flattening all the second year students, it’s up to Momo and his little band of misfits to fight in the dreaded Three Strikes of Doom manliness test.

Well, it’s not a historical piece so I w asn’t going to mention costumes, but I will say this…school uniform fantasies are not just for boys anymore!

There is a very funny commentary track on the DVD that can be added to the subtitles on the screen, although it’s a bit confusing. Seems to be three, sometimes more, people talking on it, including Tak himself.

Shoei, the actor who plays the ugly brute, Togashi, hasn’t done a lot of movies that I could find, but he is very talented. He practically steals the entire show. He appears to be about 45 years old, but plays a first year student of about 15 who has never been on a date, cannot figure out 2 X 2 in math class, and cries openly when girls make fun of him. Thing is, while watching him I would forget that he was not a 15 year old kid. This all sounds outrageous, since there are about a dozen first year students over the age of 30, but it really works. They take themselves seriously, even the tubby cheerleader who cheers on a podium at night outside the school in his loincloth. The acting and film quality are excellent. The directing is wonderful. My only complaint aside from too many face close-ups is that the fight scenes a couple times were filmed so that it was quite obvious the fists weren’t connecting.

This movie comes highly recommended to those with a sense of humor and a bit of familiarity with anime or manga style. Don’t take it seriously. It isn’t a movie, it’s a manga adaptation and it does what it was meant to do perfectly.  And if you like Versus, the very long fight scene at the end between the stars of Versus will feel like a continuation of their last fight, and it's where the blood spray comes in.