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Japan, 1988 (MIFF 1989)

Director: Naoto Yamakawa

Yamakawa (bom in 1967) is without doubt Japan's hottest director, a Bertolucci for the 1990s whose ears ring with garage-band rock rather than Verdi arias. He's best known so far for his awesomely original short Attack, on a Bakery and feature The New Morning of Billy the Kid, but this latest work, gives a good idea of his range, skill and promise.

After two years in the limbo that has hit Japan's independent sector, Yamakawa has returned to feature filmmaking with a low-budget genre film, aimed squarely at the huge Japanese teen and student market. The result is So What, a Japanese version of the classic teen-rebellion dream — to start up a rock band.

So What, based on a comic strip by Katsuhiro Otomo, is the most unpretentious and unpattonising film about Japanese kids in years, and it's shot like a dream — even the splices have style!

So What is set entirely in and around a small, provincial town. The arrival of a boy from Tokyo proves to be the catalyst for three high school friends wanting to form a band. The long process of rehearsing and working out a repertoire begins. The boys win support from a friendly barmaid, but also start running into obstacles: tensions begin to appear between them, and they meet serious opposition from their teacher. Their story is, of course, the story of every garage band in every small town.

Yamakawa deals with adolescent lives and aspirations so ingeniously and with such commitment that it is reasonable to ask: Is So What of any interest to a more mature audience? The answer is: Yes.

It offers all audiences the pleasure of seeing a director in full control of his medium, moving his camera in graceful arabesques, cutting his shots in intricate patterns, and coming close to Eisenstein's ideal of 'polyphonic montage' in the way that images are related to music. - Tony Rayns

See also...

Attack on a Bakery

When two labourers decide to rob a bakery, they get more co-operation than they expected from its communist owner. ... More »

The Cat Often Comes Back in the Morning

A segment from the portmanteau film Fantastic Collection. Raymond Chandler writ small more wittily than anything since Gumshoe. Yamakawa won the MFF Grand Prix in 1987 for his short Attack On a ... More »

One Step Beyond

A power-station blows up. Two men and two women run out. An employee tries to convince them of the non-danger of the disaster. ... 'No Jean-Luc, not a child of Marx and Coca-Cola. More like a ... More »


... ... The Yen Family reinforces and extends a trend in contemporary Japanese cinema whereby wealth and its effect upon traditional and human values, especially as exemplified by the family, have ... More »


Contrasling images of flight—primeval, mystical, hi-tech—set the tone for a remarkable journey backwards in time to the most distant part of China. Yunnan is frozen in time, a place so ... More »


"Even before The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On won last years Japanese New Director's Prize, the hottest Japanese film of 1987 was so hot that no major distributor would handle it. Instead, it ... More »

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