Review for Go (2001)
I’m usually and instantly all-in on whatever Third Window Films releases, having had nothing but positive experiences with their catalogue, even with the films I didn’t particularly like. But once in a while even I start to second guess a title, and develop a reluctance to actually watch it. With Go, I had requested the review check disc by reflex as usual, without even stopping to think about it, but when I subsequently read the blurb, and paused, I actually started putting off placing the disc into a player. I always opt for escapism over reality, and Go’s story of a second generation immigrant growing up in a country that was less than welcoming just hit a little too close to home for comfort. Some days I’d rather not look in a mirror. Then again, in 2002, this was Japan’s submission for the Academy Awards, and it’s not shy of award wins from other competitions either. Anyway, let’s... Go...
Sugihara was born and raised in Japan, speaks the language, and fits right in... Only his family are North Korean, and for much of his education he was taught in a North Korean school in Japan, to be properly indoctrinated. He had enough of that, and quit to join a Japanese high school, although he only really got noticed when he stopped submitting to bullies, and started fighting back. Fortunately his father taught him how to box, but now he’s got a reputation. And then he meets a Japanese girl named Sakurai. This is his love story.
Go gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer with DTS-HD MA 2.0 Stereo Japanese audio and optional English subtitles. The image is clear and sharp with strong detail and consistent colour. I did notice the odd fleck on the print, but it’s hardly worth mentioning. Darker scenes aren’t quite as well defined when it comes to contrast, but again it’s only a small degree. The audio is fine, although the volume level is a little low; easily remedied. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos, while the stereo benefits from a Prologic uplift sending a little ambience to the rears. Note that there are Japanese subtitles burnt into the print for non-Japanese dialogue.
The disc boots to an animated menu, and you get the following extras...
Making of Go (40:25)
Portrait of Go (16:01)
Press Launch (11:16)
Stage Greetings (17:38)
TV Spots (2:53)
Thankfully, Go wasn’t what I was expecting, although discrimination and prejudice does lie at the heart of this love story. It is far more a comedy romance than a gritty drama however, something for which I was really quite grateful. It’s also a different kind of prejudice that is outside the realms of my experience, differences of ideology rather than skin tone, which actually makes for a more interesting and nuanced dynamic.
It’s something I never considered, the legacy of Imperial Japan’s colonial ambitions resulting in a significant Korean community in Japan. When Japan had invaded Korea and Manchuria prior to the Second World War, many Koreans were brought to Japan to work, and some opted to stay following the war. Subsequently, the Korean War that sundered the country led to those ‘Japanese’ Koreans choosing sides according to their heritage and allegiance, resulting in a North Korean expat community in Japan which thrives to this day, and which the North Korean government is invested in keeping indoctrinated. Given the geopolitical tensions in the area, friction between Japanese and these North Koreans in Japan isn’t uncommon.
Sugihara was born to a North Korean family in Japan, and attended a North Korean school. With classes leaning toward maintaining a cultural identity, and indoctrinating students with North Korean ideology, it’s no surprise that Sugihara and his friends spent their free time acting out against Japanese authority. But living in a capitalist society with all the benefits and temptations that come, it’s inevitable that some students will succumb. For Sugihara, his parents actually pre-empted him by ‘defecting’ to South Korea, as his father wanted a passport to go on holiday.
Attending a Japanese high school isn’t much better as he’s seen as an outsider and is bullied. It’s only when he fights back that he gains some level of respect, although it’s not exactly the reputation he would want, when the first Japanese friend he makes is the son of a yakuza boss. But it’s at his birthday party that he meets Sakurai, an unconventional girl who makes an indelible impression, and they start dating, with a promise that they would never lie to each other. But there’s one thing that Sugihara can’t tell her...
There’s a comedic element that plays through the film from the beginning, although I had my heart in my mouth with an early scene that reminded me uncomfortably of Gantz. Sugihara and his friends from the Korean community thrive on thumbing their noses at authority, while his boxer father, who tends to beat his lessons into his wayward son, has more of a submissive attitude to his wife. That comic element continues when the family defects, and Sugihara start at the Japanese school, but there is always the sense of the ‘us versus them’ perspective of the outsider. That shifts when he meets Sakurai, and they begin to fall in love. There is however a sense of ominous foreshadowing beneath the rom-com antics (not helped by the film opening with a quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet).
It’s inevitable in a love story like this, with protagonists from different worlds, that as they grow closer an impediment will arise. When it does come it’s from an unexpected direction, and a stark reminder of the extremes of bigotry. The temptation is there for the film to go in a dark direction, which again would be apropos if the story was staying true to the Romeo and Juliet metaphor, but thankfully for my delicate sensibilities, Go resists temptation, and instead opts to return to the wry comedy of the first two acts, and delivers a more upbeat and heart-warming conclusion.
I didn’t think it was possible to be as light and as silly about racism while still doing justice to the subject matter, but I am glad to be proved wrong with Go. It’s entertaining and uplifting, and Third Window Films bring it to us with their usual thoughtfulness and care, when it comes to the transfer and the extra features.
The Go Blu-ray is available from Terracotta, Arrow Video, and all the usual mainstream retailers.