Oh man, it’s been ages since I’ve talked about Johnny’s Jr. Channel on Youtube. It’s also been ages since I’ve talked about a recently watched Japanese film. So how lucky is it that I managed to get to the theatre earlier this month and watch the Johnny’s Jr (mostly) film of “Shonentachi”.
Before I dive too deep, take a peek at the preview below.
Oh jeez, I really don’t know how to go about talking about this film to be honest. I have my conflicted feelings that one it’s a Johnny’s Jr production, they’re not debuted so it’s not going to be great… I also want to absolutely hype this film up though exactly because it’s full of Junior’s…. It’s very difficult. So let’s start with the plot.
Fans may know this, but ‘Shonentachi’ is a rather famous stage play that’s been performed by Johnny’s Jr’s many times over the years. It’s had 13-14 or so iterations over the years, performed by many groups. Notably from the debuted Johnny’s groups; A.B.C.-Z, and Kis-My-Ft2 have performed it. It’s typically adapted by the Kansai Johnny’s Jr’s since they have performed or contributed to 9 variations of the musical/stage play.
The story follows a group of boys that are currently being held in a juvenile detention facility. They have three major cell blocks divided by red, blue and black uniforms
(along with yellow and green but they aren’t important). Often times due to their nature the cell blocks fight one another to stimulate their minds while in confinement. One day Jun (Kyomoto Taiga), arrives at the facility becoming cellmates with Igao (Koichi Yugo), and Joe (Jeese) on the red team. Being withdrawn due to his nature, he takes awhile to open up but eventually comes into his own with his cell mates and other juveniles within the facility.
Which all in all, isn’t a bad premise in the slightest. If there had been any care taken into properly adapting this from stage play/musical to a movie. Honestly, I can’t make the argument that the transition went well because there are a variety of holes that even the best musical numbers and choreographed fight scenes can’t fix.
So, let’s lay out the flaws and then dive back into the redemption. The first problem is marketing; this film has no demographic beyond Johnny’s fans. It’s really hard to sell an idea like this to the average film watcher. The less experienced cast, the narrow demographic of Johnny’s fans/musical enthusiasts is a hard sell. In Aomori, this film only screened in one theatre in the entire prefecture. One.
Sure there are the dedicated fans (like myself) who will make the trek to fork over their money but… trying to entice a casual viewer isn’t going to work. This film fell out of the movie rankings after it’s second week which is rough. I don’t imagine this film did well after the initial first week sales-wise.
Secondly, was the execution of the musical numbers. They were expected but the transition from film acting to musical number was… unpolished. Most numbers had little to no transition or build up to them, and then they would abruptly end. Which, in a stage play/musical works just fine. When transitioning a musical to film, there has to be some transition time. It painfully shows at the use of cut scenes for transition, almost to the point where it became to hard to follow.
I love HiHi Jets and Tokyo B Shonen but their inclusion within the film was unnatural and clearly forced. Given the premise of the film, it would have been better served if they didn’t appear at all. I’m genuinely surprised they didn’t use Hashimoto Ryo more, given he actually has acting experience. Alas, the choices were made without this consideration.
Lastly, is just… the lost potential. They made a point of having SixTONES, Snow Man and some of the more popular Kansai Jrs appear but failed to use them to any smart degree. Both Morimoto Shintaro and Matsumura Hokuto have a fair amount of experience in dramas and tv acting but get shoved to the back of the production. Hokuto gets an inserted backstory for maybe all of five minutes, and Shintaro’s character barely gets introduced.
The majority of Snow Man serve as weak opposition who are barely introduced beyond the bare bones to make the story run. It was so awkward watching Joe (Jeese) and Kouta (Iwamoto Hikaru) have multiple duets when we barely learn anything about Kouta’s character. Yes, he’s obviously Joe’s rival. Clearly, there was some beef outside of the facility but it gets shoved in and out of our faces in about less then three minutes.
There’s huge gaps in focus and it’s just… not good.
The final blow is how much this story is just boosting up Kyomoto Taiga and Jeese’s prominence within SixTONES. The whole story revolves around those two to the point, where I had to buy the pamphlet since I walked out of the theatre barely knowing anything about anyone else’s characters. I wasn’t even the only fan doing that. There were several fans, who had more questions then answers after watching this production.
I get and understand pushing certain members. It’s an important thing to do, especially with SixTONES popularity at the moment. But did no one in production see how obvious and overdone it was to the point of being almost annoying?? Apparently not. Which is a shame.
So what are the good points? The fact that Johnny Kitagawa took a well loved stage play/musical and attempted a film adaptation is admirable. For as much flack as I’m giving it, it really isn’t a burning pile of garbage. There’s a lot of shining moments when the don’t get overshadowed by shit.
For one, the location is on point. It’s a genuine former, juvenile detention center for boys. It’s currently being renovated for real to become a hotel of all things. The sets while limited, where incredibly breath taking. Now that I know where it is, I might make a personal trip out to see it in real life!
Another positive is there is no filler in this film. This film is consistent in chugging along in plot, pacing not leaving time for you to get bored to distracted. If someone isn’t having a touching moment, cracking a joke, or making a comment about the flawed nature of the facility, then they are singing and dancing. Of course, this also means that the singing and dancing is absolutely perfect; at least if you’re a Johnny’s fan. The dance numbers are easy on the eyes and do have quite the feeling to them.
The story itself, again is interesting too. So yes, there is good in this film despite my grievances. I wouldn’t say that this film is an absolute must-watch, unless you are a fan of any particular Jr in the film, but it’s not a burning pile of hair either. If you get the chance and are looking for something easy on the eyes to watch, give this a shot.