Brooding former pop star Jyo Kaieda (Shodai Fukuyama) has abandoned his dreams of musical success in favour of studying for a law degree. Chance, however, leads him into reluctantly coaching three high schoolers in learning to play musical instruments and forming their own band. When his former band partner returns from America, however, Kaieda is forced to resolve his past frustrations and look to his future.
Shunji Muguruma’s new teenage drama JK Rock (the JK stands for ‘joshi kosei’, or ‘high school girls’) is a bright and colourful melodrama. It does not tell the most believable of stories, but it is populated with an entertaining ensemble of characters and moves at an energetic and playful pace. The film does an effective job of balancing two main storylines: one focused on a broken rock band, and another on a new band coming together. It makes a rough ride out of its first act, but once the narrative settles down it becomes an amiable combination of music, humour, and charmingly naive drama.
JK Rock does not bother with excessive realism. Jyo’s old band Jokers is not portrayed as much more than a flash-in-the-pan indie outfit, yet it’s apparently enough for him to wear expensive fashion and drive an outlandish sports car (which he seems to perpetually park in the middle of a pedestrian square). His three young students go from a complete inability to play musical instruments to a mastery of technique over the course of an hour or so. Everybody is, of course, unerringly pretty. It is simply that kind of a film. The right audience will enthusiastically lap it all up. The wrong audience will likely groan with the tedium of it all.
The predominantly youthful cast give their all. Shodai Fukuyama brings a typical brooding smoulder to Jyo, and a classic blend of stoic resolve and vulnerability. Of his three students, Chihiro Hayama is the most striking as the ballsy and aggressive drummer Sakura. The screenplay allows for a strong emotional connection between her and Jyo that does not fall entirely along the stereotypical lines it initially suggests. A frenzied duet between the two midway through the film seems a particular highlight. Generally there is less music in the film than one might expect from a story entirely about rock bands. What is seen is a blend of traditional Japanese pop/rock that is easy on the ear but does not really linger in the mind.
JK Rock is certainly no classic of the genre, but for ardent enthusiasts for Japanese teen films will definitely find plenty in the film to enjoy. It is straight-forward, enthusiastic, and brings plenty of easy-going appeal. Know yourself as a movie-goer, and you can probably work out your own experience of JK Rock in advance.
JK Rock is screening at Australia’s Japanese Film Festival. For more information, click here.