Genre: Politically-minded Ninja-ettes
Director: Mari Asato (2007)
review in one breath
Deep within the basement of Tokyo's Orion Dance Academy is a politically subversive training ground where aspiring young starlettes are transformed into assassins and spies. Highly skilled in toe-tapping terrorist techniques and sophisticated disguises (such as a large Pink Bunny suit!), our team of four babettes must fight the diabolical security forces of Japan to free their Mother Land, Okinawa. Will they succeed? Will they survive? Will they be able to finally perfect that cool but tricky dance move before their oppressors come crashing down upon them???
As you can tell from the description above, this is pretty light fare and is likely destined to aggravate more than titillate unless you really have a penchant for dance moves and highly implausible plot lines. For the most part, its cast and crew are relatively unknown, including its female director Mari Asato who has directed only a few similarly successful works and has assisted on a couple projects which crossed over into the horror genre. One exception to the cumulative inexperience is Kanji Tsuda (who here plays Abe) whose acting resume is very extensive, with appearances in films ranging from Zatoichi to Ju-On (2003). Unfortunately, all the experience in the world would likely be insufficient to pull this film out of its campy mediocrity.
The English title of the film is wholly inaccurate and deceptive since this has NOTHING to do with samurai. Admittedly, a catchy-yet-accurate translation of the Japanese title proves a little difficult. Packed into Dokuritsu shojo gurentai is the meaning of "Organized military gang ("gurentai") of young girls ("shojo") fighting for Independence ("dokuritsu")". Perhaps in the post-9/11 world the title "Terrorist Chicks" would be too controversial. But even "Chicks of the Revolution" would have been far more accurate than the samurai reference the translators settled on. (And who doesn't love Revolutionary Chicks??)
Understanding the meaning of the Japanese title highlights the one (and only) intriguing aspect of the film, namely its call for "Independence from Japan". Although the dialogue mentions only a "southernmost island" or "The Kingdom" as the aim of this revolutionary independence, several visual clues make it clear that the film is talking about the Island of Okinawa. Although Japan conquered Okinawa and its surrounding smaller islands (known originally as the Ryukyu Kingdom) as early as 1609 AD and later officially annexed it as a national prefecture in 1869 AD, a very strong sentiment amongst the indigenous population have sought the Islands' independence. This independence movement is known as the "Ryukyu Independence Movement" and encompasses all the southernmost Ryukyu or Nansei Islands. To this day, this sentiment remains strong among nearly half of the islands' population. Here's a blurb from Wikipedia on a recent study:
In 1995, a decision to remove [US] troops from Okinawa was reversed, and there was a renewed surge in the Ryukyu Independence Movement. In 2005, Lim John Chuan-tiong, a University of Ryukyu associate professor executed a telephone poll of Okinawans over 18. He obtained useful replies from 1029 people. Asked whether they considered themselves Okinawan, Japanese, or both, the answers were 40.6, 21.3, and 36.5 respectively. When asked whether Okinawa should become independent if the Japanese government allowed (or did not allow) Okinawa to freely decide its future, 24.9% replied Okinawa should become independent with permission, and 20.5% in case of no permission from the Japanese government. Those who believed Okinawa should not declare independence were 58.7% and 57.4% respectively.
So, as ineffective as it may be, this film aims to be a semi-propaganda piece for the RyÅ«kyÅ« Movement, and indeed ends wthl a very explicit call for its audiences to join the cause. The film goes out of its way to cast the national Japanese Security Department as cruelly oppressive while casting the Okinawan revolutionaries in the most appealing light possible. They do this by casting a relatively well-known (real life) pop star with Okinawan roots as the leaders in the movement. Her nationally popular songs are used in the film as the medium through which secret messages are passed along to the assassins. The entire revolutionary aspect of the film is wrapped in the recent dance craze which has swept certain segments of Japanese youth and young adults. Although the basic storyline and characters depicted here are obviously (and implausibly) fictionalized, it is clear that the underlying political call for Okinawan Independence is not.
After her mother dies tragically due to an accident involving a military plane, young Yuki heads from her homeland of Okinawa to Tokyo, hoping to strike it big as a pop starlette dancer. Unknowingly, the Orion Dancing Academy in which she enrolls channels all its top performers through a rigorous training program aimed at securing the independence of "The Kingdom" from the Japanese government.
After a year of rigorous training involving killer dance moves and ridiculous costumes, Yuki and her fellow starlettes are sent on their first mission. They must assassinate the head of the Japan Security Department. They will receive all subsequent instruction from the secret messages hidden in the dance moves of Cocoe, the academy's most successful starlette whose songs are blared nightly from Tokyo's Shinjuku jumbotron. But their diabolical enemy soon proves more than a match for them and one by one the pop-culture assassins meet an unseemly demise.
Will these revolutionary dancers survive long enough to complete their mission? WHO KNOWS??!!
Apart from the revolutionary aspect of this film, there's not much to recommend here. The film's intended audience seems to be high-school aged females with a wide-eyed fascination with becoming pop-dancers. And if thats any indication of the future of the Ryuku Independence Movement, heaven help Okinawa.
This film belongs squarely in that sub-genre which casts wanna-be starlettes in roles which somehow find ways of display their meager skills in dance, singing or modeling. To young girls with like-minded aspirations, this may have some traction. But with anyone outside that narrow demographic, the entire enterprise comes across as either aggravating or unintentionally comedic depending on your personal patience threshold.
Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD (with subtitles). Available at all mainstream US venues.
|Smalls kudos for mention of the (rarely heard from) Okinawa Independence Movement.||B-Grade shlock gore includes: Severed limbs, starlette conflagration, bullets to the forehead (from rubber duck and machine gun toting assassin), decapitated mannequins, and a loose bolt through the cranium.||Does a prosthetic nipple bomb count?||You better know what you're getting into BEFORE you watch this. Otherwise you may start pulling your hair out.|