Aspiring rock and pop stars have long been a focus of Japanese musical films. One of the best-loved examples of the genre is Linda Linda Linda, Yamashita Nobuhiro’s 2005 film about a band of four teenaged girls – one Korean and three Japanese – who make their smash debut at a school cultural festival playing the title Blue Hearts tune.
A hit in Japan and an audience favorite at Udine FEFF and other festivals around the world, Linda Linda Linda has spawned few successors in Japan. One reason: Actual teenaged girls would rather see movies about ikemen (“handsome guys”) burning up the stage.
Based on an original script by Tanimoto Kaori and directed by Muguruma Shunji, JK Rock cleverly combines a story about ikemen rockers with a Linda Linda Linda-like band. (The “JK” in the title refers to joshikosei or “high school girls.”).
Most of the musical excitement is provided by the latter – the three-woman group Drop Doll. The members begin their on-screen careers as near beginners, but they are also fast learners who become accomplished rockers. Also, the film’s ikemen band – the Jokers – is seen in concert only in glimpses.
Skeptics may wonder how “accomplished” a band can be that poses for publicity photos in schoolgirl uniforms. The answer for this skeptic was “very,” though the film’s band practice sequences, which recall the notoriously grueling ones in Whiplash, may have had something to do with it. Short kilt skirts or no, the girls who learn the film’s hard way deserve respect – and get it from their mostly male supporters.
The story, however, begins with the breakup of the Jokers, just as they are about to hit it big. One member, the brooding “Joe” Kodukai (Yamamoto Ryosuke), goes on to fame and fortune in the United States. Another, the boyish but intense “Joe” Kaieda (Fukuyama Shodai), quits music to study law in college – and drive around in a snazzy red Lamborghini. (How he acquired the wherewithal to afford this ride is not explained, though all those crazed Jokers fans may have had something to do with it.)
Meanwhile, two other former Jokers (Kobayashi Ryota and Kumagai Kaito) want to get Joe playing again. Their plan, carried out with the help of a friendly rock cafe owner (Nishimura Masahiko), is persuade him to mentor a budding girl band, called Drop Doll. Joe at first clashes with the band’s fiery drummer Sakura (Hayama Chihiro) who hates being bossed by anyone, however blonde and beautiful.
But Sakura is also ferociously talented and determined – a combination that finally breaks down Joe’s resistance to ever picking up a guitar again. Their blistering duet in the café’s practice room alone is worth the price of admission. And afterwards, Joe’s relationship with the band remains strictly pro even when Sakura develops a schoolgirl crush on him.
There is much more to the story, including the high drama of the two Joes’ reunion and the predictable crises before Drop Doll face their first big test in a band concert. But the heart of the film remains the single-minded quest of Sakura and her band mates Mao (single-named Yuina) and Rina (Miyake Yukino) to become real rockers.
Come for the gorgeous Fukuyama, leave a Drop Doll devotee.