In 10 Words or Less
Mean Girls meets "21 Jump Street" in Japan
Loves: Spy stories, stylish visuals
Likes: Japanese action films, "Sailor Moon"
Dislikes: Bad CGI
I can't claim that I knew a thing about about the Sukeban Deka (Delinquent Girl Detective) concept before checking out this film, but it apparently has been around for 20 years, with a few different actresses taking on the role of Saki Asamiya, who has been seen in manga, anime, films and TV. Now, it's coming to America (as an import), thanks to the quick-rising Magnolia Pictures, which, in about a year and a half, has become a go-to studio for the unique and entertaining.
The story is relatively simple, and one that's been the basis for tons of genre flicks: The government has something over our flawed hero, but is willing to be of assistance if the flawed hero is willing to take on a dangerous mission. In this case, our bad girl's mom is at risk of going to prison, if she won't infiltrate a high school to discover the meaning of a ominous countdown on a popular underground teen web site called "Enola Gay." Naturally, she takes the job, otherwise this wouldn't be much of a movie.
J-pop singer Aya Matsuura is the Saki Asamiya of this film, equipped with a traditional Japanese sailor school-girl outfit, a bad attitude and a steel yo-yo. Why a yo-yo? No idea. But it's the weapon of choice for the Saki Asamiyas of the world, and, if you think about it, it probably makes a bit more sense than a pistol for a secret agent working in a high school. Entering Seisen Academy in the guise of an exchange singer, and sticking out like a sore thumb, Saki quickly gets on the bad side of popular Reika (J-pop star Rika Ishikawa) and her band of cronies, which doesn't help her when it comes to discovering what's going on with Enola Gay. What does help is befriending Tae, an outcast whose an active user of the Enola Gay site, and whose now-comatose friend was even more involved in the site's anarchistic activities.
As Saki investigates deeper, she becomes involved with a mysterious man in white, and learns more about her mom from detective Kazutoshi Kira, who takes an increasing interest in Saki's adventures. Along the way, she gets into a few fights, but her abilities are hardly of the level you'd expect from a government agent, as she frequently get her ass handed to her in seconds. Thus, it makes no sense when a plot twist you probably didn't see coming leads up to a face-off battle that is so completely ridiculous, that you'll wonder how you got there, considering the Frederick's of Metropolis costumes, before a climactic showdown. Directed by Kenta Fukasaku, writer of Battle Royale and writer/director of Battle Royale II, these battles were really well-done, especially in their use of the Girl Cop's signature weapon and the high-energy way they were presented. Fukasaku's touch is evidence as well in his exploration of social issues, in the way the topic of bullying informs the film.
Unfortunately, the action, due to Saki's frequent defeats, isn't a big enough part of the film, and the exposition needed during the investigation, along with dips into Japanese drama cliches, can slow down the momentum. Worse yet, when you have a movie with the word Yo-Yo in the title and as the main weapon, and a main character who's an 18-year-old schoolgirl, you need to rein in the drama and add a bit of humor, otherwise you simply take yourself too seriously. In many ways, it's the same problem that plagued the end of D.E.B.S., which overall is closer to where this film should have lived. Consider this a promising concept delivered with style, but not enough enjoyment.
Delivered in a standard keepcase, this one DVD release has an animated, anamorphic widescreen main menu with options to play the film, select scenes, adjust languages and check out special features. Language options include English (Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0) and Japanese (Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0), with subtitles in English and Spanish, along with closed captions.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer is a bit dull and soft and shows some excess grain, but it does a nice job of delivering the details and handles the dirty colors and dark scenes well without becoming muddy. The CGI effects frequently stand out against the rest of the image, which is problematic, but overall, it's a good, but not great release.
The audio comes in Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks, which presents the dialogue clean and clearly, and does a nice job with the sound effects and music, using the side and rear speakers to make a deep soundfield. The mix could be a bit more dynamic for an action film like this, but it doesn't negatively affect the film. It just doesn't help it. The Japanese track is definitely the one to listen to, but surprisingly, the English dub isn't that bad, losing out mainly when it comes to Saki's dialogue, which doesn't feel as true to the film in English.
The main extra is "Yo-Yo Girl Mission," a Japanese behind-the-scenes featurette, which has plenty of on-set footage, along with some interviews with the talent and even some personal messages for the audience from members of the cast. It all comes off a bit fluffy, thanks to the very excited narration and some of the more obvious promotional pieces, like the actress diaries, but there's quite a bit of interesting content in it's 41-plus minutes, covering the concept's history, the cast and the filmmakers, including an interview with the original Saki Asamiya and Matsuura.
Also included is the original Japanese trailer, presented with English subtitles. It's a rather well-produced trailer, as it presents a good deal of interesting material, yet doesn't ruin the film by giving away a lot.
The Bottom Line
Though not as engrossing as genre classics like Robocop or Darkman, Yo-Yo Girl Cop could certainly appeal to fans of such films, thanks to a well-defined lead, a few solid action sequences and a concept that's just crazy enough to work. On the downside, the story struggles to move ahead in spots and is a bit too heavy, but the film looks great and the characters are appealing enough to keep your interest. The DVD is solid all around, and has one fine extra, making it the kind of disc that will be worth the effort to check it out, but keep your expectations low.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.