Bounce Ko Gals (Baunsu ko gaurusu) [1997] (aka Leaving) • Japan

This movie was a great big surprise. A film about the world of compensated dating in Japan, made in Japan, could easily be exploitatively cheap or cheaply titillating, but Bounce Ko Gals is neither, and much to many people's chagrin, considering its subject matter, it turns out to be a sweet, sort of melodramatic film about friendship. There is no sex or nudity in the film but it is pretty insightful and blunt about such things. It's not a kids film by any means and as much as some adults might like to think its subject matter inappropriate for teens, it's pretty spot on in its portrayal of youth culture, particularly that of contemporary Tokyo.

The three teenage girls who play the leads are fantastic—all feature film debut performances. Hitomi Satô, as the tough and cynical one, owns the film every moment she's on screen. She's a leader who blasts her clients with a stun gun and robs them instead of sleeping with them. She banks on the fact that no one will ever report to the police they were robbed by an underage, would-be prostitute. Yasue Satô (no relation) is the free spirit, setting up “dates” for high school friends but never going on them herself. She street dances and suffers from "straight-line-itis", becoming nauseous if she ever finds herself walking a straight line in life, literally or figuratively. It's a hilarious schtick. And finally, Yukiko Okamoto plays the innocent one who stumbles into the world of ko girls because of a dire need to finance her education in America. She assists the film in a half-hearted attempt at finding a moral center and eventually brings things to a touching resolve.

The great Kôji Yakusho joins the three girls in the film and offers some old school perspective, adding color to the film's main theme. He plays a veteran sex trade yakusa boss who sees the teenage girls as a threat to his business but he can't help admiring their resourcefulness so a tenuous friendship ensues. He threatens the girls, because his position demands it, but he also assists them when they target the wrong people and get into trouble.

Bounce Ko Gals is a hip, fun, frank, and furious look at the, some would say uniquely Japanese, phenomenon of teenage girls who have discovered their sexual power and find very little reason not to use it even though the endgame of designer handbags and other assorted accessories might seem superficial—not to mention mind-boggling to those of a more mature bent. A straightforward approach to this subject matter results from the director's documentary style of filming, and it's got a great soundtrack. Highly recommended.


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