Sukeban deka: Kôdo nêmu = Asamiya Saki, 2006
Sukeban Deka – roughly translated from slang as “Delinquent Girl Detective” – is based on yet another popular manga series, this time taking its cue from Shinji Wada’s 1976-1982 run, as featured in Flowers & Dreams publications [Hana to Yume]. The success of Wada’s comics paved the way for a television series in 1985, which lasted for three years and originally starred teen idol Yuki Saito as the title’s lead heroine, Saki Asamiya (look out for Saito playing Saki’s mother in this 2006 update). In fact part of Sukeban Deka’s legacy on film is that it has used teen idols (primarily singers) of the time to take on the role of its central protagonist. One year into the television series’ run, actress/singer Yoko Minamino replaced Miss Saito and thus helped to steer Sukeban Deka’s second series into movie territory in 1987, with the simply titled Sukeban Deka: The Movie. By the time that the television series had headed into its third year, Yui Asaka had been placed in a central role, not as Saki Asamiya this time, but Yui Kazama. Its continued popularity with Asaka saw it spawn a second film with Sukeban Deka the Movie II: Revenge of the Three Kazama Sisters. Things dramatically slowed down after this and Shinji Wada’s teenaged figure of justice only saw a two-part OAV from Toei, released 1990-91. Then the series disappeared for thirteen years, before the original manga stories saw a reprint back home.
However, with once famed comic creations enjoying a renaissance in recent years, such as Cutey Honey, Tetsujin 28, Astro Boy, Zero Woman and even Shigeru Mizuki’s Yokai monsters, it seemed appropriate, or rather inevitable, that Toei would revisit another one of its hot properties, now on the verge of facing its thirty year anniversary. Sukeban Deka: Code Name = Asamiya Saki, then, is the latest attempt at bringing Shinji Wada’s work to life for a new generation. Labelled internationally as the catchy Yo-Yo Girl Cop, it stars Hello! Project alumni Aya Matsuura as the sailor-suit clad, yo-yo swinging super-detective high school student!
Organization K is an elite sect which specially trains underage agents in order for them to infiltrate high schools and get the low-down on any dubious activities taking place on the grounds. Their previous agent (played by Masae Ohtani from Hello! Project’s Melon Kinenbi) was killed in action whilst investigating a mysterious viral website known as ‘Enola Gay’, which purports to supply information ranging from bomb-making to suicides. The head of Organization K is Kira Kazutoshi (Riki Takeuchi), who must now find a replacement – and fast. When a former agent of his ends up facing a prison term for breaking immigration laws, he finds the perfect opportunity to exploit the situation. Enter a young woman (Aya Matsuura), also known only as K, arrested on the streets of New York and personally delivered by the police to Kira’s base. Kira presents the case to the girl, who is herself facing charges of violent assault. It turns out that the woman being held in police custody is her mother (Yuki Saito), who is to stand trial in three days. If her daughter wishes to see her free then she’s going to have to accept Kira’s mission: to enter a high school under the name of Saki Asamiya and weed out the masterminds behind Enola Gay. Begrudgingly she accepts.
Upon arrival Saki manages to have a run-in with the popular snobby girl Reika (Rika Ishikawa), befriend a bullied girl by the name of Tae (Yui Okada) and learn of some strange goings on with regards to the school chemistry club. Rather conveniently it’s a race against time, with a 72 hour countdown taking place on the Enola Gay website. Who is behind this mysterious campaign and why are they so hell-bent on making bombs? Only Saki Asamiya, armed with her trusty yo-yo can save the day….which we all know she will of course.
Yo-yo Girl Cop: now there’s a title that says “Hey! Let’s have fun watching schoolgirls get dirty with yo-yos for 90 minutes”. To an extent we do get a little of that: two attractive, dressed down – so to speak – J-pop artists (Rika Ishikawa also belonging to the Hello! Project) locking limbs and exchanging blows. Yo-Yo Girl Cop doesn’t remotely shy away from offering a little fan service, then, but its achilles heel is that it takes some of the fun elements from its precursors and places them into a narrative that’s perhaps played a little too seriously for its own good.
Kenta Fukasaku has been something of a one-hit wonder, leaving his mark only with a good screenplay in 2000’s Battle Royale. After his father Kenji Fukasaku passed away in 2003 he took over the directing reigns and finished its sequel Battle Royale: Requiem (for which he also wrote), to much critical disdain, proving that there can indeed be too much of a good thing. 2005 saw him tackle a straighter drama with Under the Same Moon, but again it looked to be a fruitless endeavour. Yo-Yo Girl Cop has Fukasaku go back to what he presumes he knows best and as such his offering is one of relevant concern. Much like the Battle Royale films, Yo-Yo Girl Cop harbours a cynical streak, whereby it examins the lives of dejected high-school teens belonging to a system governed by adults who can’t possibly understand what they’re going through – or so we’re led to believe. Suicide and bullying go hand-in-hand without vigilant watch and the younger generation feel that only they can solve their immediate problems by themselves, while their peers carry on with their business in total oblivion or out of sheer ignorance. Indeed it’s all rather worrying and even here the events of WWII Hiroshima is once again dug up to counterpoint our criminals’ perfect ideals, that violence is the only way to bring attention to the world. While the intent is to pitch a tale of anti-violence in general, Yo-Yo Girl Cop is nonetheless one which sees the goodies take out the baddies by playing them at their own game. Surely though we just want brainless entertainment here?
The Sukeban Deka series rarely deviates from its initial premise. The idea behind it is that Saki Asamiya stays undercover at a school so that she can filter out the ruffians. In some respects Western fans may be able to relate similarly to the early nineties Johnny Depp series 21 Jump Street, whereby youthful looking officers were sent undercover for similar tasks, with the emphasis being that they could therefore infiltrate and relate to the victims with minimum fuss. Indeed, the storyline here is rather grand and blown totally out of proportion, which is befitting of most action comics, anime or films in general. If only it actually offered a lot more bang for buck, though. With a sleek run time of 100 minutes, Fukasaku finds himself doing a lot of juggling throughout, addressing obvious social concerns, while trying to flesh out his characters in an appropriate enough manner – and that’s before he even really tackles the action side of things. Yo-Yo Girl Cop’s action sequences are sporadically staged and are kept brief, employing Michael Bay school-of-editing techniques and featuring a minutiae of comical gestures.
More disappointedly is that for a franchise which rides on such a whacky gimmick, there isn’t a great deal of yo-yo fighting on display. Saki is set up here as being useless with a yo-yo, which certainly pays off in terms of the aforementioned humour strewn throughout various intervals, but it gives little leeway toward us seeing any memorable turns of event; employing CG effects on a number of occasions leaves few desired moments, as there’s a shockingly short supply of imagination on display, despite such technical freedom. Moreover, the fact that Takahiko Hasegawa – a two-time national champion – provided his talents as an instructor for Matsuura and Ishikawa, makes us wonder just what on earth was going on behind the set. Granted, both girls are not trained fighters, nor yo-yo masters for that matter, but you’d expect a bit more under the given circumstances, especially seeing that Tarantino delivered a masterful sequence featuring an equally unskilled Chiaki Kuriyama in a similar vein for Kill Bill – Vol.1, which leaves us to ponder how Fukasaku’s film might have benefited had he a more intense action choreographer and relied less on covering up his stars’ lack of fighting prowess via other means. That said, both girls do a remarkable enough job of getting physically involved throughout the various setpieces, but of the two Ishikawa most certainly comes off the better as the villain of the piece, showing at least some sort of knack for what she’s doing. The final act, though derivative in its own right, is handled nicely enough however: we’ve a huge warehouse showdown, complete with teens brandishing automatic weapons, while two now skimpy-clad schoolgirls (the general rule being applied that our heroes and villains must dress in figure-revealing costumes for the ultimate showdown) go at it hell for leather. That alone saves Yo-Yo Girl Cop from being an almost pointless exercise.
But you’ve got to hand it to the stars; they acquit themselves very well. You can sense that Riki Takeuchi understands the silliness of it all, what with his usual over-the-top, larger than life manner, as he drags his leg around, whilst keeping the gurning slightly toned down for a change. To be fair though his character is an essential part of the plot and he manages to handle the fatherly figure of Kazutoshi with enough empathy and charm for us to buy into, which at least strays somewhat from his familiar gangster types. The star though, Aya Matsuura, is particularly impressive given the range of emotions she must deal with. Saki is every bit as much a victim as the students she sets out to protect and Matsuura does well to balance this, alongside her violent streak and piercing stare. And yes, of course she scrubs up nicely in her biker/sailor suit as well. As does fellow singer Rika Ishikawa (Hello! Project’s v-u-den), whose role in the film is ridiculously signposted, but she carries the role out with aplomb and relishes the opportunity to threaten Matsuura’s character, before kitting herself out with fetishist PVC garments. Shunsuke Kobozuka makes for an average villain, being fairly underused in playing a character with an underdeveloped motive, while Yui Okada (also from v-u-den) is effective enough as Saki’s tormented friend Tae, although she has to be one of the most ridiculously naïve people on the planet when it comes to the final act. And while I’m at it, just what the hell is it with the bloody Hello! Project’s involvement here anyway? Even v-u-den’s Erika Miyoshi has a part. That accounts for the entire group!
For the curious amongst you, the Hello! Project is some Japanese pop-music creation bent on world domination. Harvesting girls from all over Japan, from pre-pubescent teens to adults who can’t quite make it as solo artists, it’s collectively amassed no fewer than thirty sub-groups, which includes those that are currently inactive. Many of its artists have since gone on to successful solo singing careers and some have dropped into relative obscurity. Personally I don’t mind a bit of Morning Musume with my “Morning Coffee” though.
It’s perhaps not the finest compliment to say that Kenta Fukasaku’s Yo-Yo Girl Cop is his best feature to date. After all it’s fairly consistent at checking off the usual boxes, while being a bit haphazard and a little more demanding than it should be. In addition it almost feels like an advertisement for the Hello! Project, so make of that what you will; at least you know you are getting attractive girls who sometimes fight in short skirts, but then you also get a few who mope about and do sod all. Given that it goes some way toward fleshing out its characters with some workable twists and fine performances, while offering some entertaining action in spots, it deserves a little praise, and I certainly wouldn’t scoff at a sequel under the guidance of a far more assured director. Should Fukasaku return I can only urge him to dial it down a notch and dispense with the self-importance and remember that films starring yo-yo-swinging girl cops should above all ese be fun.