Monday, June 28, 2010

NYAFF 2010: 8000 Miles 2: Girl Rappers

8000 Miles 2: Girl Rappers - Irie (2010)
This sequel starts with Ayumu (Maho Yamada), as she wakes up at home in Gunma Prefecture- another suburb of Tokyo right next to Saitama where the first 8000 Miles took place. We notice the slogan hanging from her desk in her cluttered room, perhaps the remnants of a New Year's resolution from god knows when: "Be a cooler person this year". Living at home with her single father, helping family business- making and delivering konjak, a traditional green gelatin, she is an aimless twenty-something, like the heroes of the first movie. But she once was a vibrant member of an all-girl high school group, B-Hack, with her friends Mittsu (Love Exposure's Sakura Ando), Mamie and Beyoncé. It was the legendary local DJ TDK (the same Takeda-san from the first movie) who inspired them. The girls are struggling with ups and downs of grown-up world - getting old, debts, boyfriends, unwanted pregnancy and lame jobs. At the mention of regrouping, Mittsu barks, "Rap music is not cool anymore." But their passion for music once again ignites when they encounter two b-boys from Saitama (Ikku and Tom from the first film), who make a pilgrimage to where TDK's life altering concert took place- a riverbank in Gunma. After their hostile free-styling battle, the girls are motivated to pick up their act one last time.

Similar to Shogung, B-Hack goes through an ultra embarrassing gig in the middle of the film. Taking place in a public swimming pool, their reunion performance doesn't even remotely resemble gangsta rap, but is closer to a Spice Girls act. With their bubble gum lyrics and matching bathing suits, it's pretty pathetic and they know it too. Without any close ups, director Yu Irie goes for a wide, single long take for the entire performance, as if to spare the girls from further embarrassment.

The differences between the first 8000 Miles and Girl Rappers are not only in far superior production value and acting, but in the characters themselves: they are much better drawn out and their struggles much more heartfelt. Even the stereotypical characters here have redeeming qualities and are likable. What sets these girls apart from the boys is their genuine passion for music, not the put-on act that comes with the rap culture.

In the end, like Ikku and Tom, the girls realize what rap is about. You rap about what you know. It's a confession of sorts. It's a way to vent your anger and frustration. It is, ultimately, a therapy. With Girl Rappers, Irie has matured to a patient, observant filmmaker representing the blank generation of Japan and I expect great things from him in the future.

8000 Miles 2 is screening on June 29th (8:45 PM) at the Walter Reade Theater as part of 2010 New York Asian Film Festival. Director Yu Irie will be at the screening!
Review at Twitch

NYAFF 2010: 8000 Miles

8000 Miles - Irie (2009)
A sleeper hit of 2009 in Japan, Yu Irie's 8000 Miles is a no budget tragicomedy about wannabe b-boys in Saitama, a Tokyo suburb. A chubby NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) Ikku and his farmboy friends Mighty and Tom(u) are members of Shogung, a hip-hop group, lounging around empty warehouses and practicing their freestyle rap, dreaming of big success. Decked out in gangsta gears of their idols (2pac and Notorious B.I.G.), cocky attitudes and made-up slangs (bro, here stands for broccoli), it's pretty clear from the get-go, these ne'er do well, twenty-somethings are more interested in the idea of being rappers than actual music. Ikku tries to be relevant though- he collects clippings of newspaper headlines for lyrics.

The trio (because the rest of the group bailed at the last minute)'s first gig takes place in a local PTA meeting about youth problem. Shogung performing in front of the completely unresponsive audience and the Q & A session that follows are the most uncomfortable yet funniest scenes in the film. Irie's penchant for long takes works well here to catch all the awkward moments.

The subplot includes a sickly legendary DJ Takeda-san(TKD) residing in seclusion in their neighborhood and Ikku's high school flame turned porn star to stir things up inside the group.

All in all, this small movie is not really about rap culture in Japan. It's more to do with the blank generation and suburban ennui. Irie, a native of Saitama, understands well the frustrations of these lovable losers in suburbia and portray them with warmth and care. Hidden behind all the oversized parkas and dark shades, 8000 Miles is an ultimately a tender bromance between Ikku and Tom.

8000 Miles is screening on June 29th (6:30 PM) and June 30th (3:30 PM)at the Walter Reade Theater as part of 2010 New York Asian Film Festival. Director Yu Irie will be at the screening!
Review at Twitch