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The Shonen Merikensack

The rediscovery of a punk rock band leads to comeback tours and the return of unresolved issues in "The Shonen Merikensack," a consistently funny but overlong comedy.

Cast:
With: Aoi Miyazaki, Koichi Sato, Yuichi Kimura, Tomorowo Taguchi, Kazunobu Mineta, Yusuke Santamaria, Hiroki Miyake, Ryo Katsuji, Pierre Taki.

The rediscovery of a punk rock band leads to comeback tours and the return of unresolved issues in “The Shonen Merikensack,” a consistently funny but overlong comedy. Pic’s clear, amusing setup is confused by writer-director Kankuro Kudo, who throws in every idea he has and also tends toward repetition. Domestic release skedded for Feb. 14 should garner respectable B.O from youthful Japanese auds. Abroad, this raffish laffer will rep an ideal pickup for late-night fest sidebars and Asian-themed fests looking for light-hearted fun.

An unsuccessful A&R employee for Maple Records, Kanna (Aoi Miyazaki) knows she’s finally onto something after downloading a video of a savage punk rock band called the Brass Knuckle Kids (in Japanese, the Shonen Merikensack). Protag tracks down guitarist Akio (Koichi Sato) to find him working in a restaurant, drunk on the job, unshaven, unkempt and, most unexpectedly, 50 years old.

The clip Kanna discovered was actually from the Brass Knuckle Kids’ 1982 heyday, which never saw the group rise above cult status. But thanks to Maple Records’ successful marketing, the defunct band’s clip garners major Web traffic. Kanna’s boss (a rib-tickling Yusuke Santamaria) insists she must sign the “Brass Knuckles” and also take them on a tour of Japan’s punk clubs.

Removing vomit from his chin, Akio vows to find the other band members and sends Kanna to enlist his brother, Haruo (Yuichi Kimura), a bass guitarist-turned-dairy farmer, who hasn’t spoken a civil word to his sibling in decades. As promised by Akio, on day one of rehearsals, mohawked Young (Tomorowo Taguchi) has his drumsticks at the ready. Somewhat less ready is former wild-eyed singer Jimmy (Kazunobu Mineta), who arrives semi-comatose in a wheelchair pushed by his last remaining groupie. Their first gig is in two weeks.

Initially fast-flying gags seem to prepare pic for a hallowed place between rock mockumentary “This Is Spinal Tap” and British aging-rockers dramedy “Still Crazy.” A flashback to band’s transformative first gig after a boy-band concert falls apart is a riot, hilariously recalling the Sex Pistols rising from the ashes of the Bay City Rollers. Unfortunately, once the band gets on the road, the script starts to go out of tune.

Abundant talking heads, including the yakuza-like road manager of the band’s glory years, are awkwardly sutured to the main narrative under the pretext that Kanna is suddenly making an on-tour docu. Main yarn starts to repeat itself, and a padded subplot about Kanna’s musically ambitious b.f. (Ryo Katsuji) drags down the momentum. But even when pic loses its mojo, Kudo demonstrates a tenacious capacity for delivering winning gags when they’re least expected.

Miyazaki gives it her all, but struggles with a sometimes well-written, sometimes directionless protag. Perfs are generally energetic, and the authentically depicted conflict between guitarist brothers Kanna and Haruo supplies genuine heart.

Music by Japanese group Ging Nang Boyz is angrily entertaining, despite an obvious debt to the Sex Pistols. All tech credits are pro.

The Shonen Merikensack

Japan

Production: A Toei, TV Tokyo, Shogakukan, Vap, Otana Keikaku production. (International sales: Toei, Tokyo.) Produced by Mokoto Okada, Tsugio Hattori. Executive producer, Mitsuru Kurosawa. Directed, written by Kankuro Kudo.

Crew: Camera (color), Kaz Tanaka; editor, Shuichi Kakesu; music, Ging Nang Boyz; production designer, Hiroyasu Koizumi; sound (Dolby Digital), Daisuke Hayashi. Reviewed at Tokyo Film Festival (Special Screening), Oct. 18, 2008. Running time: 125 MIN.

With: With: Aoi Miyazaki, Koichi Sato, Yuichi Kimura, Tomorowo Taguchi, Kazunobu Mineta, Yusuke Santamaria, Hiroki Miyake, Ryo Katsuji, Pierre Taki.

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