Reviewed by: Emma Slawinski

In this incisive and unconventional coming-of-age drama, Isao Yukisada tackles the thorny issue of identity in a society that practices an uneasy and all too fragile acceptance of nationals of foreign descent.

Sugihara - real family name, Lee - is the son of North Korean parents who settled in Japan long ago and who, on the exterior, bear little trace of their foreignness. Stifled by his strait-laced, disciplinarian North Korean school but not fully accepted into Japanese society, Sugihara is caught in a maelstrom of conflicting signals and demands. In the opening scenes we see him bursting under the pressure in a startling but entertaining gymnasium scene, as he attempts to take out both his fellow basketball team members and opponents – and, symbolically, all those who regularly categorise or repress him with their notions of race, nation and conformity.

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But, as Sugihara reminds us repeatedly in the early sequences, and contrary to what they might otherwise suggest, this is his love story. Yôsuke Kubozuka is fierce and compelling as the frazzle-haired, aloof and sharp-eyed Sugihara and offers a credible progression from directionless rage and imaginings of an empty future, to articulate self-expression. The catalysts for the change are his friendship with bespectacled straight-A student, Jong-il (Takato Hosoyamada), who introduces him to traditional Japanese storytelling and Shakespeare, and the beautiful, unpredictable Sakurai (Kô Shibasaki), who has her sights set on Sugihara, but won’t even reveal her first name to him. Equally, he holds back from telling her the truth about himself, afraid that she will reject him.

Meticulously shot and edited with manga-esque sections of furious jump-cutting, hand-held camera work and flashbacks balanced with slower and more languorous passages, Go zips along at a decent pace. The narrative trickery of dotting back and forth in time with Sugihara repeatedly pre-announcing his “love story” are cleverly employed, as are the early scenes whose meaning changes as the film progresses and which defy our initial, instinctive judgment. What looks like a gang initiation loses its menace when we realise Sugihara is virtually immune to peer-pressure, and more in control than he seems. Similarly, a horrific beating at the hands of his father turns out not just to be pointless thuggery, and the bond between the two is developed convincingly through the picture.

Yukisada manages to meld two storylines seamlessly: one is about racial politics and another is about teenage angst and love, and the difficulty of asserting your identity, whatever your roots. Rather than diminishing the impact, the strategy pays off. The result is a darkly funny tale of boyhood that crackles with anger but never loses its optimism.

Reviewed on: 02 Mar 2011
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Korean youth in Japan fights against prejudice.

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Keith Hennessey Brown ****1/2

Director: Isao Yukisada

Writer: Kankuro Kudo, based on the novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro

Starring: Yosuke Kubozuka, Kou Shibasaki, Tsutomu Yamakazi, Shonobu Ootake, Taro Yamamoto, Takahito Hosoyama, Mitsuri Murata, Kaynam Myung, Ren Ohsugi, Sensie Shiomi

Year: 2001

Runtime: 122 minutes

Country: Japan

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