Genre: Extreme Youth Coming of Age
review in one breath
Bounce Ko Gals is the grand-daddy of the "cute little girls gone bad" genre which currently seems so popular in Japan. Though lacking the violence and gore of later imitations (such as Akuma ga Sumu Ie 2001 (2001) and Shudan Satsujin Kurabu (2003)) this film creates the effectively dismal moral morass which cute high school girls seem cinematically destined to occupy for many years to come. Here girls band together in shockingly street-wise ways amidst a male dominated society offering them opportunities galore to trade their innocence for cold hard cash. Innocence, of course, is not required, as anything can be bartered, from used underwear or school uniforms to being audience to raunchy, fantasy-laden stories from creepy old men and middle-aged losers. Bounce Ko Gals depicts like no other the sleazy underbelly of Tokyo which lies in wait for young girls in search of money or attention.
The entire story takes place within a 24 hour period, starting on a Friday at 2:00pm where we are introduced to Risa (Okamoto Yukiko) as she rides the bullet train from her hometown of Sendai to Tokyo. She has saved up a year's worth of wages with which she will travel to New York to start a new life as a college student. She has decided to walk through the heart of Tokyo for the day, making her way from Shibuya station (where she gets off the bullet train) to Ueno station where she will pick up the train to the airport. On her way through the city, Risa runs into dire straits when she makes a quick stop in the hope of picking up a little extra cash but instead barely escapes being raped and has her entire savings stolen.
With only one day to recoup her traveling money, Risa befriends Jonko (Sato Hitomi) and Raku (Sato Yasue), new acquaintances who agree to take Risa on a string of "dates for hire". Throughout the course of the evening, Risa is thoroughly initiated into the seedy and dangerous metropolis where high school girls are offered substantial money to endure bizarre humiliation and endangerment. Things only get worse when Oshima (Yakusho Koji) a low ranking yakuza overseeing the local sex industry views Jonko and Raku's business as cutting into his own profits and sends his goon to track the three girls down. (The girls' habit of using stun guns and stealing the wallets of some of Oshima's regular customers doesn't help matters.)
Director Harada seems to suggest a couple messages here. First, he highlights and most-likely exaggerates the Japanese tendency to view high school girls as potential sex objects. This "tendency" works its way out within society through a number of money-driven industries, each of which is given ample exposure and attention in this film. A second message regards the life-threatening dangers which these industries pose for otherwise naive girls. Harada provides scenes of degradation, humiliation, near rape, and brutality all as a consequence of wandering too close to this spider's web. Third, and perhaps most powerfully, Harada demonstrates his optimism in at least a modest humanitarianism and basic human recognition of good as the possible solution to the current cultural malaise. This can be seen at several points toward the end of the film, whether it be the three Shinto priestesses purifying the neighborhood shrine juxtaposed the three friends of Risa, Jonko and Raku, the kindness shown Risa by the young scout Sap (Murakami Jun) and others from who we least expect it, or most prominently in the sincere friendship formed among the three girls. This third and final message is indeed what audiences will walk away from the film remembering.
The story is well-crafted and the acting is very good by all the cast. The construct of the story amounts nearly to a race against the clock, in the knowledge that Risa must make her plane and gather enough cash in life-threatening situations to do so, all the while the yakuza are quickly bearing down upon them. The manner in which the story concludes is undoubtedly not what the audience could foresee, and the final minutes of this film create a substantial and satisfying impact.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|Although exaggerated in scope, this is the grand-daddy of Japan's latest "bad little girl" genre.||Some violent brutality against an unfortunate young girl. One tazer attack. One pervert attacked with a terribly soiled urinal grate.||Sexual themes and perversity permeate this story, but there is neither sex nor nudity herein.||A rather well-crafted albeit extreme "coming of age" tale wherein three young girls travel through the backstreets of Tokyo, tazing johns and running from the yakuza.|