Production Company: Fuji Television, Media Factory, Shogakkan, IMAGICA, Mitsui Bussan, JR West Japan, Shirogumi, Robot
Release: 15 July 2000
Length: 105 minutes
Director: Yamazaki Takashi
Planning: Kawamura Yutaro, Kubo Masaichi, Kayama Tetsu, Takano Riki, Takahashi Osamu, Yoshida Noriyuki
Executive Producer: Abe Shuji, Nomura Tatsuo
Producer: Hadome Yasuo, Sawabe Nobumasa, Kushino Takahito, Ando Oyahiro
Screenplay: Yamazaki Takashi
Photography: Shibazaki Kozo
Music: Shimizu Yasuaki
Editing: Kitazawa Yoshio
Kanzaki: Katori Shingo
Noriko: Sakai Miki
Yusuke: Endo Yuya
Misaki: Suzuki An
Yusuke (as adult): Yoshioka Hidetaka
Misaki (as adult): Ogawa Tamaki
Hidetaka: Shimizu Kyotaro
The Kids Are All Right, But the Product Plugs Ain’t
It used to be that if you wanted to infuse real substance into a kids picture, you had to get the boys and girls out of the artificial city and, a la Stand By Me, make them encounter true existence in the countryside.
Juvenile, Toho’s SFX entry for the 2000 summer vacation movie market that also sets its story in a small town, seems to have another idea of what reality is. To quote the press notes: “The product placements realized through tie-ups with numerous companies contribute toward the realistic depiction of the life of today’s kids.”
And a lot of commercial products do appear prominently in the story, from Play Station 2 and Lawson to Bulgaria Yogurt. But I was dumbfounded by that statement: Has contemporary life gotten so vapid that movies need product plugs to seem real?
Juvenile is not that bad, but it does precariously tread the line between the vacuous and the emotionally warm, between flagrant wish-fulfillment and adolescent angst.
The story is just what your average 12-year-old boy would crave. Four friends, Yusuke (Endo Yuya), Misaki (Suzuki An), Toshiya, and Hidetaka, are camping out one night on a school nature outing when a flash of light from the woods wakes them. Rushing to the scene, they find a cute, ball-like robot, which immediately blurts out, “Tetra has found Yusuke.”
With the cuddly creature and the limited SFX, the potential was there for Juvenile to head off in Rex-direction (the title of the worst kids SFX film of the ’90s), but first-time director/screenwriter Yamazaki Takashi keeps things watchable with a blend of comedy, puppy love, and video-game-like action.
As the children secretly help Tetra rebuild and develop himself, eventually enrolling the assistance of Kanzaki (Shingo Katori), the quirky local genius and inventor, Yusuke begins feeling the pangs of first love for Misaki, and worries about both his confidence and Misaki’s friendliness to Toshiya.
The action enters when aliens, seemingly bent on stealing the Earth’s water, land nearby and begin duplicating local humans like Misaki’s sister Noriko (Miki Sakai) so as to gather information and eliminate “excessively advanced” technology like Tetra.
In a bare-faced salute to Play Station - and in an effort to pander to the desires of most any video-game-playing juvenile - Tetra first lets Yusuke play a game called “Gangelion,” and then rebuilds himself in the shape of that huge battle robot so that Yusuke, using the very same PS2 controller, can climb aboard and save Misaki when she’s kidnapped by the aliens.
Perhaps the only way one can get today’s kids away from their control pads and into the theaters is to promise them the realization of the same participatory action of video games. But at least Juvenile tries to complicate the fantasy with some old-fashioned adolescent worries and a call for the gamers to remember the world around them.
In that regard, Yamazaki’s film keeps one foot in the tradition of movies about adolescence, even adding the rural setting for good measure. Yet as Higashi Yoichi ‘s Village of Dreams (“E no naka no boku no mura”) seemed to imply, that countryside is at best only a make believe fancy to today’s Japan. It seems that Juvenile effectively inserts its golden-hued small town software into its Play Station, product-placement reality of today.
The movie is actually narrated by a voice from the future, speaking about the events we see as some wistful past, creating a nostalgia for the present reminiscent of Iwai Shunji (Juvenile’s production company, Robot, also incidentally produced Iwai’s Love Letter).
Nostalgia, however, can only arise for something that has already been lost. Which means, despite Juvenile’s not-unappealing realization, that maybe its juvenile world of fantasy and angst is no more real or significant than the Lawson’s near you.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 13 July 2000, p. 11
Copyright 2000: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow