publishers are still trying to catch up with Kadokawa. In the late 1970s, media
mogul Haruki Kadokawa started a film production division and began cranking out
hit after hit, based on his publishing properties. So, how’s Random House Studio
doing? Oh right, sold to Freemantle Media. For Hiroko Yakushimaru, they
developed one of the first and arguably still most successful vehicles for a
Japanese Idol. It would spawn two television series (decades apart) and a
sequel re-boot this year. It doesn’t have the cult following in America of
other violent pop culture phenomena, but it is hard to miss its lasting
influence of Japanese cinema when Shinji Sōmai’s Sailor Suit and Machine Gun (trailer here) screens as the opener
of the Japan Society retrospective: Pop! Goes Cinema: Kadokawa Films and 1980s Japan.
Hoshi looks fragile, but she is surprisingly tough. She was already somewhat delinquent,
even before she inherited control of her great-uncle’s Yakuza gang.
Technically, he had named his nephew as his successor, but before the surviving
Medaka gang members can find him, the traveling salesman dies in an accident.
Logically, leadership of the gang then falls to Hoshi, as his rightful heir.
Rather bizarrely, Hoshi also inherits Mayumi Sandaiji, her father’s lover, whom
she never met. You can bet she has a secret or two.
Hoshi tries to beg off leading the Medaka gang, but when she learns the remaining
core group will launch a suicide attack against their rivals if forced to
disband, she accepts her new position. Of course, her new fellow clan leaders
do not take her seriously. They assume they can finish off Medaka at their
leisure, but there is a limit to the disrespect and condescension Hoshi will
Sailor Suit and
Machine Gun takes
its title and iconic poster image from the climatic shootout that is basically
what it sounds like, but the film in toto is far moodier and more ambiguous
than the Noboru Iguchi and Yoshihiro Nishimura movies it subsequently inspired.
Hoshi is not a cartoon. She is a confused kid, who quite logically grabs onto
the support system being offered after the death of her father, her only family
and sole support.
is terrific as Hoshi evolving from slightly jaded but largely naïve kid into
full-fledged gangster and finally we’re not really sure what. She also plays
some powerful scenes with Yuki Kazamatsuri as Sandaiji, the profoundly damaged
There is something appealingly grungy about SS and MG. This is not a slick
video-game-style gore fest. It is street-wise and world-weary, but with a
sugary pop idol soundtrack. Nor does it glamorize the violence it inexorably
leads up to (despite spawning the catch-word “kaikan” with Hoshi’s big gun-down).
Innocence is lost in Sōmai’s film—and it’s a darned shame, but life goes on.
Highly recommended for students and connoisseurs of misunderstood cult cinema, Sailor Suit and Machine Gun screens this
Tuesday (11/8) at Japan Society as the launch of their Kadokawa series—and it
is guaranteed to make happier viewing than anything on television that
Labels: Hiroko Yakushimaru, Japanese Cinema, Yakuza films