Let me get this part out of the way. Is Yo-Yo Girl Cop a good movie? No. For god’s sake, look at the title. Yo-Yo Girl Cop. Come to think of it, forget the title; look at the artwork. Whoever said you can’t judge a book by its cover was lying.
But is the movie fun? Well, yeah. It features a schoolgirl clobbering on bad guys with a high-tech version of the titular child’s toy. And with those few words, I suspect I’ve allowed the majority of the audience for this flick to select itself. Go knock yourselves out.
For those not in the loop, Sukeban Deka—the original title for Cop in its native Japan—goes way back. Girl’s comic creator Shinji Wada penned a fairly epic set of adventure stories about teen jailbird Saki Asamiya, drafted into the service of various eminences grises as their way into a heart of criminal darkness where no grown man (or woman) can go: high school. A live-action TV show, a series of movies, and an animated adaptation all followed suit. And now Kenta-son-of-Kinji Fukasaku has stepped up with this version, updated for the 21st century but with many of the same basic conceits intact.
The setup’s as overheated as anything else that follows. Juvenile delinquent Saki (newcomer Aya Matsuura) gets hauled into custody, strapped into a straightjacket and penned up in a wire-mesh holding cell, and given the straight dope by her new “handler”, Kazutoshi (Riki Takeuchi, nutty as ever). Her mission, should she choose to accept it, is to infiltrate an elite private school and determine whether or not there’s a cadre of Columbine-like kid terrorists preparing to unleash Aum Shinrikyo-esque devastation. She has three days, after which one of two things happen: bombs go off, or Saki’s mother on death row gets the hot seat. (Amusingly enough, the original Saki—Yuki Saitō—shows up as Mom here.)
Wada used roughly the same basic plotline to kick off the manga (as did screenwriter Takeshi Hirota for the animated series), and the movie wastes little time putting Saki in as much trouble as possible. The in-school girl cliques quickly close ranks to kick the crap out of her, but Saki has to hold back for fear of giving away too much too soon—although that doesn’t stop her from rising to the defense of another henpecked student, Konno (Yui Okada). After the usual showdowns and beat-downs, there’s a climactic fight in a crumbling factory (no end of those for local color, this being post-bubble Japan) where Saki gets not only a weapons upgrade but a kickass new costume.
Those of you who haven’t spent much time mucking around in Japan’s odd cinematic underworld probably won’t have as much fun. But if you have, there’s amusing touches aplenty. Takeuchi himself is one good reason to see the movie: he doesn’t just chew the scenery, he out-and-out blows bubbles with it. Those familiar with the franchise will also notice plenty of other clever bits, as when Wada’s own manga briefly peek out from the shelves of a comic rental shop. Less satisfying is how the movie grapples, rather futilely, with the whole alienated-postmodern-youth thing, where kids log into anonymous 2ch-style BBSes and are unable to see anything but boredom or apocalypse in their future. Then again, maybe a more serious movie about that subject would be a lot tougher to pull off; the last time anyone tried, we got the almost-unwatchable All About Lily Chou-chou, over which I’d pick any incarnation of Sukeban Deka any day of the week.
A while back I watched Doomsday, and admired how the way the mainly British cast played the whole thing absolutely straight, and in the process made what could have been a terrible, unwatchable movie into a fun one. There’s something of the same spirit at work in the Japanese low-budget action pictures I’ve been seeing recently: the filmmakers are winking, but the cast is totally earnest. They’re playing people only too happy to know they’re not in a goofy flick about a girl beating up thugs with a high-tech yo-yo. Lucky them.
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