GO (2001)

Director: Isao Yukisada

Running Time: 122 Minutes

Certification: 15

Starring: Yōsuke Kubozuka, Ko Shibasaki, Shinobu Ōtake, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Hirofumi Arai, Mitsu Murata, Takato Hosoyamada

As the cover of Third Windows Films' Blu-Ray release shows, an image from Isao Yukisada's film which endures shows lead character, Sugihara (Yosuke Kubozuka), taking part in "The Super Great Chicken Race" - where he stands on the train tracks and outruns an approaching train. As the energetic direction shows this dangerous game the teenager willingly partakes in, it also captures this lost boy struggling to find his place in a difficult world.

Son of a Japanese mother (Shinobu Otake) and a North Korean father (Tsutomu Yamazaki), Sugihara experiences discrimination because of his mixed-race heritage. After changing to a Japanese school, he responds to prejudiced taunts on a Basketball court by exploding in a righteous fury, using his father's boxing lessons to attack his aggressors. Despite hating fighting, the student regularly resorts to self-defense as he considers it preferable to getting hit.

Based on the award winning novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro, the story sees Sugihara falling for the popular Sakurai (Kou Shibasaki), a girl who reciprocates those feelings and offers something the boy has longed for; acceptance. The racist treatment he faces has left him feeling like an alien and responding by putting walls up, when he just wants to be treated like a person. He finds calming enjoyment with Sakurai, as shown when the pair open up while walking along a white line. Kubozuka's performance powerfully conveys the lead's struggles as, despite the lovely time spent with his love interest, he still worries about revealing his nationality due to his experienced discrimination.

Such experiences have drilled the potential out of the student, seeing no point in working hard to become a doctor or a lawyer when he's been given the nickname "stupid". That self-respect is reignited by his best friend, Jong-il (Takato Hosoyamada), who the lead opens up to while receiving recommendations for books and a new-found interest in comedy. There's a touching kinship between the pair, with Jong-il being the person Sugihara most respects, while the fighter's strength inspires his intelligent friend. Such potential for the lead is glimpsed throughout, particularly with his well-read self quoting Billy The Kid and Malcolm X, and it's heartwarming how Jong-il recognises that which others have disregarded.

Kankurô Kudô's screenplay recognises the borders people have built amongst themselves, and rejects those limiting ideas created by previous generations. This is effectively captured when Sugihara's late-night meeting with an officer leads to them bonding over cigarettes and love woes. While this story is heartfelt and can be saddening, it rejects the more melodramatic trappings a lesser film would veer towards for blatant emotional manipulation.

Some of the biggest difficulties faced involves Sugihara's tense relationship with his boxer father, as pent-up rage is built from the father beating his son. There's a difficulty for the father to open up verbally, using boxing as an outlet to train and punish his offspring, although it's an effective example of how Yukisada glimpses at the humanity hidden behind hardened exteriors. There's a drive to right the wrongs caused by generational difficulties, and that begins by helping the characters escape the walls they raised to shield themselves from emotional vulnerability. It's all part of the lead's journey towards the future, faced with his carefree days ending as adolescence draws to a close in this phenomenal film.

GO is available now on Blu-Ray from Third Window Films