Last weekend at the New York Asian Film Festival, I got the opportunity to see the live action film adaptation of the 1980s Shounen Jump manga known as Sakigake!! Otokojuku. The title translates into something along the lines of Charge!! Mancademy, but the official English title is Be a Man!! Samurai School, which while not a literal translation gets the point across just fine. The director and star of the movie, Sakaguchi Taku aka Tak Sakaguchi, as well as his head stuntman, was there watching the movie along with us, and would stay around for a Q&A session afterwards.
You see, Otokojuku is a school for MEN in every respect. Led by its principal, Edajima Heihachi, a man who can take out hundreds of opponents just by mentioning his name and his title, Otokojuku is an all-male school, and the only remaining school in all of Japan that trains men to be MANLY MEN. The story begins as Tsurugi Momotarou, an impossibly calm and cool Samurai-esque man who carries a sword with him everywhere and wears a headband that barely misses the ground, is entering Otokojuku as a freshman shortly after beating up a gaggle of thugs using the power of Punching Fast. He makes some friends, endures some hardships, and then has a Shounen Fight Finale. I don’t really think that’s a spoiler because what can you expect from a movie based on an 80s Shounen Jump property?
There are many things you might look for in a movie, such as plot coherence, solid character development, subtle themes and undertones, and a straight and sure path from start to finish. Otokojuku has none of these, and is instead just a bunch of scenes from the manga faithfully adapted and strung together. Now, don’t hold it against the movie that it doesn’t seem to flow too well, as it is literally a faithful adaptation of the manga, a series which tended to flop back and forth between comedy and serious action more than most Shounen Fight Manga. It’s almost treated as isolated vignettes of the various ways in which the primary characters of the movie turn into manlier men than they were previously. The movie is fun and nonsensical, and if you really want to know an equivalent, it feels somewhat similar in pacing to the live action Cromartie High School movie. Basically, it doesn’t really watch like a movie. If this bothers you, then I would not recommend it, and whatever you do don’t be an ass about it.
The highpoint of this movie in my opinion is the narration, done by the masterful Chiba Shigeru, better known as the narrator for the Hokuto no Ken anime and an expert at making anything he says sound serious and dangerous. Any time anything at all needed to be explained or any time there was a special move to announce, sure enough Chiba would be there to tell us with power and fervor about it. It left such an impression on me that during the after-movie Q&A session, I had to ask Sakaguchi about what it took to get Chiba to do the movie. Sakaguchi said that he personally went and asked Chiba to do it, feeling that he was necessary for the movie to succeed and reach its true form.
Sub over at Subatomic Brainfreeze informs me that the entire movie was filmed in only two weeks with a budget of $400,000. Based on what I saw, I believe him. Don’t let that hold you back though, as it is one of the truest adaptations of an anime or manga I’ve ever seen. More than Casshern, more than Devilman, and especially more than Dragonball Evolution, Be a Man!! Samurai School is the movie to watch if you want to see a manga brought to life.