The Unknown Japan film series, which specializes in showcasing obscurities unseen by American audiences, continues tonight at the Belleview. Tonight’s free screening is 1982’s High-Teen Boogie, an adolescent melodrama that serves as a vehicle for the eighteen year-old Masahiko Kond?, who was apparently the Japanese Justin Bieber of his time. In a story designed to make teen girls quiver and melt, Masahiko plays Shou, the wayward leader of a motorcycle gang who gives up his bad boy ways when he falls in love with the dour good-girl Momoko (Kumiko Takeda).
You might think that a romantic comedy would be the best genre to show off Masahiko, who remains the only act to top the Japanese charts with his debut single (1980’s “Sneaker Blues”). Director Toshio Masuda instead directs a story of star-crossed lovers, whose youthful dilemma recalls the sort of drama we watched in ABC’s Afterschool Specials. When Momoko demands that Shou leave his biker gang to be with her, the gang rapes her in revenge. Shou, estranged from his well-meaning father, then sets up a chaste household with the orphaned Momoko, not knowing that she is three months pregnant from her attack. Shou works himself to exhaustion to take care of her, meanwhile moonlighting with his band in preparation for the “Rock ’82” competition. Can these young lovers deal with the bad hand fate has dealt them and get ahead in this cruel world’
Director Toshio (best known for taking over directorial chores from Akira Kurasawa on the U.S./Japan co-production Tora, Tora, Tora) is a pretty straight-forward stylist, yet he doesn’t skimp on the melodrama, showing his lovers gnashing their teeth madly at each setback fate hands them. Best of all are the fantasy musical sequences, where the characters dance and sing to 80s soft pop sounds, recalling the type of show biz razzle-dazzle once seen from the kids of Zoom. Director Toshio is one of the most-successful Japanese directors of all time, this is a rare chance to see his work and enjoy the giddy pleasures of some exotic “Brat Pack”-style pop fizz. — DAN BUSKIRK