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GS Wonderland
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by Jay Seaver

"A music industry comedy in search of a lead singer."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: One of the signs of a particularly good comedy - or any sort of movie, really - is when there are funny or interesting things happening in the corners; stuff that the movie doesn't need but which make things even better. "GS Wonderland" has plenty of these things, but rather than enhancing an above-average movie, they point out how bland the actual center of the film is.

It's the summer of 1968, and Beatlemania has hit Japan with the sort of pop-cultural wallop that gives rise to scores of imitators. Tomonoro Sasaki (Tetta Sugimoto) has been charged with starting a "group sounds" label for his company (or it's back to producing nursery rhyme flexi-discs!), and has agent Kajii Ryosuke (Shinji Takeda) hunt up a band. He stumbles upon The Diamonds, three guys who had had a cruel prank played upon them by another band - guitarist Masao (Takuya Ishida), drummer Shun (Hiro Mizushima), and bass player Kenta (Yosuke Asari). The song that the company has requires an organist, though - and the only keyboard player Kajii can find is Miku Ono (Chiaki Kuriyama)... and who has ever heard of a girl in a GS band? So, one promise of a solo contract and wig later, "Michio 'Mick' Ono" is part of the group. The Diamonds are a disaster, but when the label rebrands them as "The Tightsmen", they score a smash hit - in part, of course, because the girls find Mick so dreamy.

This is a fun idea, dressed up in colorful 1960s costumes, and with a bit of satire about the music industry that is still relevant today; what could go wrong? Well, mainly, director Ryuichi Honda and his co-writer Yuji Nagamori could fail to make the Tightsmen interesting in almost any way. Masao, Shun, and Kenta are completely interchangeable; their supposed characterizations (Shun was bullied by his seven older sisters, Masao has dropped out of school to pursue his music career) are briefly mentioned but never matter that much. Miku is a bit of an enigma herself; she's strong-willed and tough, but that's sort of the extent of what we know about her.

Still, Kuriyama does all right making something out of that. She's physically perfect for the part, in that there's something very daunting and sort of masculine about her when we see Miku as a girl, but when given the wig and costume, we only half-believe that she could fool anybody. She gets a few moments where we find her enjoying the deception, and the look of shock on her face when girls start fainting over "Mick" is priceless.

The rest of the bandmates are fine as they go, but the really enjoyable performances come from the record industry people. Shinji Takeda and Tetta Sugimoto are playing parts that would normally be vipers, but the script has them in rather desperate straits, and they make Kajii and Sasaki into very sympathetic figures. Takeda gets to deliver the summation of everything that's wrong with the record industry that's also one of Honda's best moments in the film, a tragic monologue set against a humorous flashback; Sugimoto shines as the low guy on the totem pole in the company board meetings. Look for Ittoku Kishibe there, stealing a couple scenes as the company's president.

The movie is fairly funny at times, if only because setting it 40 years in the past doesn't make its satire any less relevant: attempting to manufacture music often has ridiculous, unsatisfying results, the inevitable outcome of grown men trying to decide what teenagers like in meetings. That it often has some commercial success is kind of dispiriting, as we see the band's enthusiasm for music drain from the moment they put on the tights. There's also the point that the teen idols that tend to score with young girls are often the most feminine, although the movie doesn't do much with the idea once it's been pointed out.

That's fine, in a "making a larger point" sort of way, but for a story about a band, "GS Wonderland" does very little to make us particularly interested in the Diamons/Tightsmen. The parody is often dead-on, but the heart often just isn't there.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18887&reviewer=371
originally posted: 07/19/09 00:53:13
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2009 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Fantasia Festival For more in the 2009 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Ryuichi Honda

Written by
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Cast
  Chiaki Kuriyama
  Shinji Takeda
  Yosuke Asari
  Takuya Ishida
  Hiro Mizushima



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