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March 25, 2009

Philadelphia Film Festival 2009: GS Wonderland

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GS Wandarando
Ryuichi Honda - 2008
DesperaDo 35mm Film

My first introduction to anything resembling Japanese rock music was courtesy of Dick Clark, on a show he hosted on Saturdays. I don't remember the band's name, but I do remember that they performed a cover version of "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?". After that long time passing, my only exposure to Japanese rock has been intermittent. Some of what I've seen and heard could be marked off as being peculiar to someone who grew up during the era of The Beatles.

GS Wonderland is a very funny movie about a brief era in Japanese popular music. This interview with Ryuichi Honda is of help in explaining the context of his film. The songs are by Kyohei Tsutsumi and Jun Hashimoto, the equivalent to the Brill Building composers who churned out hits performed by various singers of the moment back in the early Sixties. The music is closer to Bubblegum than to actual rock music, but that's just part of the film's goofy charm.

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The film is about the quick rise and fall of a band. Chiaki Kuriyama plays Michio, a young woman and rock wannabe, who's talked into joining a trio of three young men to form a band, with her disguised as a male named Mick. As The Diamonds, the group's first single flops, selling only twenty-three copies. Executives coming up with an angle to make the band different in looks from other bands come up with the idea of the band members wearing tights. With a new name, The Tightsmen, the future looks dismal until young women glom onto the appeal of Mick.

In addition to the humor of Mick becoming the most popular band member, there is the rivalry with the band, The Knuckles, and a vocal quartet who are less fresh than their name might suggest. Honda borrows from The Beatles rooftop concert, as well as the most famous scene from It Happened One Night. There is also a running gag with lead singer of The Knuckles claiming that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr are hiding out in northern Japan, giving lessons to would be rockers.

Hopefully, GS Wonderland will get a DVD release, if not more theatrical showings in the U.S. Chiaki Kuriyama again plays a strong willed young woman, but a warmer role than of Gogo Yubari in Kill Bill. With her angular features and long neck, one could imagine Kuriyama as the subject of one of Modigliani's paintings. Even if the film ignores the real female musicians of the time, it is an amusing pastiche of a past era, with laughs that will bridge any gaps in time and culture.

GS Wonderland is screening on March 29, 31 and April 1.

Posted by peter at March 25, 2009 12:17 AM

Comments

Nice overview, Peter. This sounds like a movie I'm going to really enjoy!

Posted by: Kimberly at March 26, 2009 01:29 PM