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SO WHAT

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

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