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Kuriyama Chiaki shines in this wonderful 60's music retrospective...
"GS Wonderland", Honda Ryuichi's latest is a nostalgic look back at the Japanese Music scene of the late 60's and is an entertaining and charming tribute to the "GS" (Group Sounds) phenomena that dominated Japan at the time.
"GS" was the Japanese equivalent of the British "Beat Pop" that was inspired by the first wave of musical groups (Beatles, The Kinks, The Animals, Herman's Hermits)that had dominated the U.S. airwaves in the so-called "British Invasion" in the mid 60s. Just as in the U.S., record labels made a mad dash to secure and market a horde of similar sounding groups, all in an effort to capitalize on the trend. Groups such as the Outcasts, the Golden Caps, The Jaguars, The Beavers, The Dynamites and the Mops scored hit singles for their record labels. The two most popular groups of the time, "The Tigers" (whose lead singer Sawada Kenji later went on to a notable solo career) and "The Tempters" released a number of hits that are still fondly remembered today.
"GS Wonderland" begins in the summer of 1967 when a brash and determined young singer Miku (Kuriyama Chiaki) goes to Tokyo with dreams of becoming an entertainer. Unfortunately, and because of the "GS Boom" all the record labels just want all-male groups and refuse to sign her up as a solo act. The Executives at Fine Records are one such company. CEO Matsuda (Kishibe Jukichi) has tasked one of his managers, Sasaki (Sugimoto Tetta) to establish a new "GS Group" in three months time or else. Sugimoto entrusts his chief talent scout, a washed-out, former rockabilly singer, Kajii Rousuke (the hilarious Takeda Shinji) with finding the group. By sheer dumb luck he stumbles upon a trio of fledgling musicians practicing on the rooftop of an apartment. Guitarist/lead singer Masao (Ishida Takuya), drummer Syun (Mizushima Hiro) and high school student and bassist Kenta (Asari Yosuke) have all been the victims of and had been ridiculed and humiliated by the reigning GS Group of the time "The Knuckles" led by the arrogant Hasegawa Tajio (Takaoka Sosuke), who continually misinforms other naive musicians that "the Beatles" are recording/vacationing in remote areas of Japan. Kaijii reports his discovery to Sasaki but he says that all the other groups have a keyboardist and that they need one to complete the group. In desperation Kaijii recruits Miku into the group but makes her conceal her gender by pretending to be a boy named, Mick (Mick Jagger?). They debut as the "Diamonds" but due to a lackluster song, a misspelling of their band name on the record, and no real gimmick, they only manage to sell a meager 23 copies of their album (most of which were bought by the band themselves). Sasaki and his boss Matsuda soon come up with their loopy gimmick - having the band dress up in tights, boots and Victorian style frilly outfits. Renamed the "Tightsmen" they debut with a more polished song. While the rest of the band look silly in the new uniforms, it manages to make Miku into an androgynous knockout (think Prince Oscar from the famous "Rose of Versailles" girl's comic of the 70s) and she soon becomes the heart-throb of the group and propels the group from obscurity into fame. However, can the group manage to continue to hide her secret from their fans and more importantly with the advent of "Psychedelic Rock" have they attained stardom too late in the game?
Since making a stunning debut in "Battle Royale" and gaining worldwide attention in "Kill Bill Vol. 1", Kuriyama Chiaki has graduated from alluring oddity to established actress and this film highlights her natural talent and comic sensibilities. She is very sweet and likable in her role as Miku/Mick. It's nice to finally see her in a more lighthearted role after being in some more heavy handed SFX dominated films like "Exte" and "252: Signal of Life". She is definitely very easy on the eyes. Ishida Takuya (Rough, Tokyo Shonen) is also very engaging in his role as lead singer Masao. J-Dorama "ike-men" (male idol) Mizushima Hiro (Kamen Rider Kabuto, Mei chan No Shitsuji) was wonderful as the high-strung drummer Syun. Asari Yosuke (Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge; Koizora) delivered another charming performance as Kenta but we really didn't get to know him that well outside of his being the youngest of the group. He does again showoff his great musical talents as he did in "Negative Happy Chainsaw Edge". Takeda Shinji (LoveDeath, Memories of Matsuko and Kung-Fu Kid) however, stole the show as the flamboyant and hyperactive talent agent Kajii. His comical bits were hilarious and I loved his quirky look in the film. Nukumizu Yochi (Always: San Chome No Yuu Hi) has a very humorous cameo as a member of a "wannabe" group of older singers (The "Fresh Four") who try to compete with the "Tightsmen".
The original music for the movie is outstanding compliments of Hashimoto Atsushi, the genius composer behind such 60s/70s standards like Ishida Ayumi's "Blue Light Yokohama" and Jackie Yoshikawa and Blue Comet's "Blue Chaanteau" and producer Tsutsumi Kyohei, who produced songs for 80s groups like CCB, Shonen Tai and 80s idols like Nakayama Miho, Oginome Yoko and Koizumi Kyoko.
The main song for the group the Tightsmen, "Kaigansen No Hotel" (Coastal Hotel) in particular is a pure joy, a nice upbeat song that positively captures the feel and sound of 60s Japanese Pop.
As a Japanese (J-Pop) music fan, I really appreciated this movie's tribute to the Japanese music of the 60s. It was a nice time capsule to into the past and I hope inspires people to revisit some of those 60s GS musical gems and albums before they fade into the past amidst the current Japanese pop/rock/hip hop trends.
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