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On August 15, 1945, Japan surrendered and World War II was over, leaving the horizon of ashes which had once been cities, and lines of the starving homeless. On the burned-out ground, U.S. Occupation troops landed with American culture -- chocolate, chewing gum, comics, English language, and jazz. During the war, Japan's military regime had banned to play or listen to the American origin music. People who love jazz must listen to the records in a closet, and most jazz players must change their genre to traditional popular music or marches with a back band or a brass band or a military band, or must stop playing.
Now is two years after the end of the war. The world has been completely changed. Japanese are enjoying freedom under the occupation forces. Freedom always includes freedom to loose a job or to starve to death. Especially in this age in Japan, economy has been reduced to almost zero and people must do anything to live. A lot of musicians have jumped to jazz. Occupation clubs need the most popular music at this time. Even in an enlisted men's club, jazz players earn a good sum of money for one night show -- the sum which is nearly equal to one month salary of an office worker. And they even have a chance to elevate the sum by changing their stage to an NCO club or an officer's club.
The Lucky Strikers, named after a popular brand of American cigarettes, are ones of such Japanese jazz players who have got a chance to play at an enlisted men's club. The members of the quartet are -
Kentaro^ (tenor sax) (HAGIWARA Masato): Jazz is his religion, but he must play the sax with a Japanese Army band in the Pacific islands during the war. He believes he plays jazz not only for money but for love. What he wants now is to restore his years in the army.
Hiroyuki (trumpet) (Mitch): He's from a country band. He's a collapsing genius -- is gifted enough, doesn't talk much and has a habit of stimulant drugs.
Akira (piano) (MURAKAMI Jun): He's from a brass band. His life has been consumed to search for his kid brother since he was missing during the war.
Joe-san (bass) (MATSUOKA Shunsuke): He was a "closet listener" of jazz and played with a Japanese Army band during the war. He's opposed to his brother and his neighbors -- to his brother because he's a communist, and to his neighbors because they bully the brother.
Sho^zo^ (drums) (ODAGIRI Joe): He has once played the Japanese festival drum -- actually he has no music career. He has never touched a jazz drum kit before, but he hangs on to the band to help his life and his family at his hometown. Because he's youngest in the band and cheerful, everybody loves him, but they don't know everything about him, especially that why he doesn't say where he comes from.
The manager of the enlisted men's club is Jim (Peter MULLAN). He knows real jazz and hopes The Lucky Strikers will improve their skill. For all musicians at the club, playing "Danny Boy" is a taboo because he lost his son Danny recently.
Russell (Shea WHIGHAM), a soldier who usually comes to the club, is a gifted tenor sax player. He looks down Japanese jazz players including The Lucky Strikers because their music sense and technique are low and old-fashioned. One night he steps up to the stage where The Lucky Strikers are playing with his tenor sax and plays Kentaro^'s part. His play is amazing. His manner gets Kentaro^ furious, although he must accept that he is no compare with the GI.
The two become strained to the breaking point. There is a reason why Russell hates Japanese. No soldiers of the occupation forces have fought Japanese because they have been transferred from Europe, or are rookies. Russell is not an exception but he has a brother who was killed during a sea battle in the Pacific.
How will the opposition between Kentaro^ and Russell develop? Can the other members of The Lucky Strikers find their solution? And more. One thing casts a shadow over them and all the enlisted men. Another war is breaking out just on the other side of a strait across Japan. (7 out of 10)
Trivia: The leading actor, HAGIWARA Masato plays the Japanese voice role for the Korean sensation, BAE Yong-joon in the TV series, "Winter Sonata".
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