February 09, 2008

YO-YO GIRL COP (2006) the return of Sukeban Deka

(2006, Japan,
Sukeban Deka: Code Name - Asamiya Saki)

Watching the mad eighties TV show Sukeban Deka (delinquent schoolgirl cop) has been a continuing pleasure for me. It delivers straight-faced schoolgirl action heroics week after week, for over 100 episodes. The show takes imaginative editing and huge leaps of logic to keep rough (yo-yo) justice as the only answer to violent school crime. For me, the highpoint of the phenomenon was the first feature film - as Saki Asamiya takes down a combat helicopter with her police-issue steel yoyo.

20 years later and the character has been revived by Kenta Fukasaku who directed the hugely disappointing Battle Royale II.

The years haven't softened the undercover methods of the police. To uncover an epidemic of school suicides, they need a teen agent to snoop around for them, despite the danger. Their solution is to offer a deal to a violent delinquent. If she works for them, they will get her mother released from a US prison. Working undercover, her only weapon looks like a yo-yo, but it’s chain-linked and made of steel – handled properly it could be deadly. Hidden inside it is a police badge, to prove to the authorities who she’s working for.

The story starts off controversially with a schoolgirl suicide-bombing the famous Shibuya crosswalk. There's a great yoyo-themed title sequence which keeps up the momentum until we get to Saki's deal. There's one of these not-quite-English conversations where Japanese actors try to speak American, as Saki is extradited from the US. Compounding the awkwardness of the scene, is twitchy camerawork and a fast-cutting style that suits the action scenes, but is simply distracting here.

Saki’s police contact is played by Takashi Miike favourite Riki Takeuchi, whose OTT acting style lacks the subtlety of William Shatner, and doesn't match the tone of any other actor in the movie. His bizarre and hammy presence also got Battle Royale II off to a bad start. Here he's also faking a Stallone drooping lip and a theatrical limp that’s less convincing than a pantomime pirate. Everything works better when he's not around, where the lead, Aya Matsuura, is playing the role straight, earnest and gritty.

The bombing mystery centres on a suicide website, all downbeat stuff that's not nearly as far-fetched as the silly yo-yo premise demands. The usual meandering detective work and alliances with bullied students is barely punctuated with a sparsity of action, where fights end as soon as they’ve started.

The important debut of the killer yo-yo has an elaborate set-up, but is written off for a cheap gag at Saki's expense. The director obviously hasn't decided whether to send it all up or make it look good. Of course the yo-yo action is now mostly computer-generated.

Saki has to deal with ‘the popular girl’ Reika, played by Rika Ishikawa, who can obviously handle a yo-yo expertly, and shows up Aya by continually doing yo-yo tricks in all their scenes.

For fans, there’s a fitting cameo from Yuki Saito, the first ever actress to play the Sukeban Deka back in 1985. It would have been great to see her in action alongside Aya.

After not nearly enough yo-yo action, even compared to a typical TV episode, there's an overlong multiple climax, by which time action fans may have given up. I really wanted this to be better, to turn more people onto the original TV show.

Yo-Yo Girl Cop, and both the eighties movies, are available in the USA on subtitled DVDs. The extras include some interesting behind the scenes footage, which is also translated.

Do you want to know more?

Sukeban Deka - the TV series (1985).

Finally, I couldn't resist getting my own steel yo-yo. It's pretty lethal but only extends about two feet. If you tried to hit anyone with it they could punch you back! There's a less dangerous plastic version included, and a small replica of Saki's iron mask (from series 2). But no, I don't use it as part of a cosplay outfit...

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  1. where can I get one of those yoyo sets?

  2. I got it from Jlist.com. They've got allsorts!

  3. What U.K stores they got?

  4. They're just an internet store, unfortunately.