High school is hell in Isao Yukisada’s Go

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Isao Yukisada’s Go has 3 beginnings. The first is simply a matter quote from Shakespeare: “What’s successful a name? That which we telephone a roseate by immoderate different sanction would smell arsenic sweet”. Coming from Romeo and Juliet, this suggests that we are astir to watch a tragic romance betwixt mismatched lovers.

The 2nd shows protagonist Sugihara (Yosuke Kunozuka) – though that is not his ‘real’ sanction – being isolated and bullied connected a schoolhouse hoops tribunal by nan different players. As he recites successful voiceover nan mainstays of Japanese ideology and personality –  “Race, homeland, nation, unification, uh, patriotism, integration, compatriots, goodwill” – only to disregard them each pinch nan words, “Makes maine sick”, he turns roaring connected his persecutors, kicking and punching his ain teammates, nan players connected nan different side, and moreover nan big coaches, earlier his narration declares, incongruously amid each nan violence, “This is my emotion story.”

The third, group 3 years earlier, shows Sugihara engaging successful a vulnerable game, known arsenic nan ‘Super Great Chicken Race’, connected nan Tokyo subway, arsenic he outruns an approaching train connected nan tracks and flees pinch his schoolmates, only to beryllium arrested extracurricular by pursuing police. Here Sugihara is each astatine erstwhile fearless, fugitive and unstoppable – astatine slightest until he is stopped.

This triptych of sequences establishes some nan cardinal themes and nan overriding reside of Go. For this is to beryllium a vibrantly move coming-of-age story, playing retired Sugihara’s rebellious adolescence and confused consciousness of personality pinch adjacent velocity and swagger, moreover arsenic it switches betwixt Sugihara’s different experiences astatine nan precocious schoolhouse he was astatine successful nan caller past, and nan 1 he is successful now. And it will also, arsenic Sugihara insists, beryllium a emotion story. Most of all, though it is simply a image of Japanese nine astatine its astir insular, discriminatory and exclusive, wherever a misfit for illustration Sugihara will ever struggle to find his place.

Sugihara is simply a Zainichi, aliases Korean-Japanese, and his soul conflicts and confusions are very overmuch a merchandise of his upbringing and environment. “You didn’t person to spell to family tribunal – beryllium grateful”,  his North Korean begetter Hideyoshi (Tsutomu Yamazaki), an ex-pro boxer, tells his boy aft giving him a vicious, bloody beating astatine nan constabulary station. “Say convey you,” adds his Japanese mother Michiko (Shinobu Otake). Sugihara has learnt brutality early, some astatine location and beyond – and nan love/hate narration that he has pinch his begetter extends to nan state wherever he was calved but hardly belongs.

Much arsenic Hideyoshi reluctantly changes his nationality from North to South Korean to make it easier to return a vacation to Hawaii, Sugihara insists connected changing from his North Korean inferior precocious schoolhouse successful Tokyo (where only Korean tin beryllium spoken, and wherever teachers impart lessons pinch their fists) to a Japanese precocious schoolhouse whee he hopes to go much naturalised. Yet for illustration his father, Sugihara will ne'er beryllium afloat accepted, and erstwhile he finds himself bullied by nan very Japanese pupils pinch whom he had been trying to integrate, he discovers nan inferior of nan fighting skills that Hideyoshi has passed down to him.

Sugihara’s martial prowess and wide recalcitrance pull nan attraction of chap pupil Sakurai (Ko Shibasaki), who recognises this outsider arsenic ‘cool’ – but arsenic their narration blossoms, its taboo quality arsenic forbidden emotion comes to nan fore. Sugihara, nicknamed ‘Stupid’ by his Zainichi friends, and really called Lee Jong-ho earlier he adopted a much Japanese-sounding name, will study that he does not successful truth smell arsenic saccharine by immoderate of these names. For while he tin sometimes walk for Japanese, he will always, erstwhile his personality is revealed, beryllium an impure foreigner successful xenophobic Japan, and truthful must play Romeo to Sakurai’s Juliet, and look a generalised racism that moreover she has thoroughly internalised.

Adapted by Kazuki Kaneshiro (himself a Zainishi) and Kankuro Kudo from Kaneshiro’s semi-autobiographical 2000 caller of nan aforesaid name, Go was nan first associated Japanese/South Korean production, and received a simultaneous theatrical merchandise successful some countries, moreover arsenic it uses an unorthodox romanticist framework to find rapprochement betwixt nan 2 nations (three really, arsenic Sugihara shares his pariah position pinch that of his father’s homeland, North Korea). Of course, each teen astatine times feels for illustration an outcast some astatine location and overseas – but Sugihara’s awkward, often sadistic rites of transition bespeak successful reverse nan increasing pains and immature personality of an land federation much than tin of alienating moreover those who were calved there.

Go comes pinch a happy ending of sorts, connected a snowy Christmas Eve whose clichéd chocolate-box quality moreover Sakurai acknowledges – but moreover if yet this mates will flooded their differences and find emotion together again, nan illustration group by nan erstwhile generation, pinch Korean Hideyoshi and Japanese Michiko many times splitting up and regularly unhappy, suggests that a rocky roadworthy lies arsenic overmuch up of arsenic down our prima cross’d lovers.

Go is released connected Blu-ray by Third Window Films, 22nd May, 2023.

Published 22 May 2023

Tags: Isao Yukisada

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