Director: Yukisada Isao Duration: 122 Minutes
Almost two years ago in my War and Memory in Japanese Film Class I watched a film called Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence by the controversial film director Oshima Nagisa. One memorable scene in this film, amongst many others, is the cruelty displayed played by Sgt. Hara, Beat Takeshi, towards an imprisoned soldier named "Kanemoto." However, this is not the soldier's real name. He, like thousands of other Korean men, was forced to adopt Japanese names, because of the difficulty for the Japanese to pronounce Korean names, and serve in the Japanese military. Of course, this character comes to a pretty brutal end. Having to write a paper comparing one of the films in the class with another, I decided to compare how the Other is represented in Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence and Yukisada Isao's Go and let me say that it was indeed an eye-opening experience.
Sugihara seems like a normal enough Japanese high school kid. He goes to class, plays basketball, reads books that his friends lend, etc. However, there is something different about Sugihara: he is not Japanese, but Korean, and not South Korean, but North Korean. Attending North Korean school until the time he enters high school. Sugihara spent his school days marching, learning the ideologies of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, and participating in classes devoted to self-criticism, which basically consisted of the teacher Mr. Kim beating students who broke the rule of speaking Japanese in school, but after he gets caught by the police after he and his friend Tawake and Wonsu attempt the Super Great Chicken Run, Sugihara ran in front of a train without getting killed, his father changes the family's nationality to South Korean, and soon after Sugihara decides to attend a Japanese high school. However, things do not go easy for our hero.
Being a Korean, although born and raised in Japan, Sugihara is bullied at his new school. However, unlike many who are bullied, Sugihara knows how to fight from studying boxing with his father and after a particular fight where he takes on the school's entire basketball team; he becomes the target of students who want to prove themselves as fighters. He defeats all of them quite easily.
The ideas of race and nation never crossed Sugihara's mind until one night at a birthday party for his friend a girl named Sakurai shows considerable interest in him. As their relationship grows, the burden of revealing his Korean heritage begins to weigh heavily on Sugihara. However, he is afraid that revealing his background will destroy the precious relationship he has developed with Sakurai.
When Iwai Shunji released Swallowtail Butterfly in 1996 considerable interest within Japan's film industry was placed on minorities in Japan and films such as Yamamoto Masashi's Junk Food were created. However, almost four decades before similar issues were taken up by Oshima Nagisa in Death by Hanging and Imamura Shohei' My Second Younger Brother and more recent films tackling the issue include Sai Yoichi's, of Korean stock himself, Blood and Bones. However, where most of these films are quite serious, Go is a quite enjoyable film filled with humor while not becoming too didactic as a social commentary. The first half of the film is truly a delight with Sugihara's unusual relationships with his parents and the growth of his affection for Sakurai. The second half of the film tries to be a bit heavier and it sometimes comes off as being a bit forced. However, Go is a valuable film in introducing viewers to one group of Japan's little known minorities.