Directed by Isao Yukisada
Produced by Mitsuru Kurosawa
Written by Kazuki Kaneshiro and Kankurō Kudō
Cast: Yosuke Kubozuka, Kou Shibasaki, Shinobu Otake and Taro Yamamoto
The story of Japanese-Koreans remains a mystery to the West. What may seem to be a shock to some, Koreans are the biggest minority group in Japan. Possibly, these Koreans living in Japan are the best living evidence of Japanese colonialism in modern Japan. Their stories although ignored by much of the world has been the subject of a few films; one such film is the Japanese movie ”Go” from 2001.
Go is a tale of a single man named Sugihara( Korean name later revealed to be Lee-Jong-ho) tore between his identity as a Korean and Japanese in a society which isn’t very accepting of outsiders. Sugihara not integrated fully into either society, Korean or Japanese, so Sugihara is very self-conscious of this. He must confront his identity as an outsider when he falls in love with a Japanese girl.
This film functions in the way, you would expect for a typical coming of age film; a main character who loathes school, wanting acceptance, parents who seem to be out of touch with their son, the main character who loves giving overblown monologs during moments of narration and an awkward love story. But to say this film is cliched would be a dishonest service to the film. Go although by the numbers on the surface possesses a certain rhythm or tempo in its execution by its kinetic cinematography, unique subject matter and a touch of surreal humor. While a typical coming of age film just strives to stay within its adolescent focused world, Go tries to cast a social commentary for the larger Japanese society.
The search for identity is the film’s biggest theme and also Sugihara’s character arc. This theme of identity constantly reflected in the dialogue like Sugihara’s dad telling him to find his identity or his dad telling him he wanted to be a Spaniard once. All of his dad’s crazy antics come to fruition when Sugihara realizes he can only find himself by going beyond his natural ”Koreanness” or ”Japaneseness”, this moment in the film is realized by Sugihara reciting he isn’t Korean or Japanese in Spanish.
Sugihara himself tries to shed the trappings of his North Korean identity by going to a Japanese High School. There is an unfortunate incident involving an old friend of Sugihara from an old North Korean school in which his friend is killed. This entire scene is confusing and abrupt though I would argue it was intentional to portray Sugihara’s confusion at the whole incident itself since the camera during the whole incident jumps cut continuously and jumps to Sugihara at times. Although it’s never clear what this scene is supposed to mean, in my mind, it’s his friend way of striking at the injustice of Japanese society by coming to the defense of this person.
Even the Japanese girl he falls in love with hides her first name from him. Once he reveals his Korean origin to his love interest, it kicks off the final arc of the film. Sugihara reconnecting with his love interest is where his issues with his identity collide in an emotional soliloquy that later links the last moments of the film with the start of the movie. One might think this final moment is simply two young lovers getting over their rift, but that would be a purely surface level look at the scene. Sugihara’s love interest’s confession affirms Japanese people inability to accept foreigners into society doesn’t arise out of hatred, but a sense of inner confusion, something enough exposure can cure.
In lieu of Sugihara’s vast self-loathing, Go isn’t a somber fest. Go thanks to its cinematic direction just oozes youthful energy and with a unique subject matter that opens a window into a world that is often forgotten. Go one can say is a unique film!
If Go can teach you one thing, it’s that your nationality shouldn’t define who you are.