Funnyman Hiroshi Shinagawa makes his directorial bow with "Drop," a well-executed teen gang action-comedy.

Following Japanese comedians Takeshi Kitano (“Fireworks”) and Hitoshi Matsumoto (“Dai Nipponjin”) behind the camera, funnyman Hiroshi Shinagawa makes his directorial bow with “Drop,” a well-executed teen gang action-comedy. Based on the helmer’s own bestselling manga, the pic is also an obvious, more enjoyable and better-sustained response to Takashi Miike’s 2007 “Crows: Episode 0.” Both barbed and endearing, this juvenile-delinquent laffer will nonetheless remain a strictly pan-Asian success, given Shinagawa’s lack of international profile. Its strong local B.O. was, ironically, eclipsed by the simultaneous release of Miike’s latest, “Yatterman.”

Deciding to fulfill his manga-fueled dream of joining a gang, Hiroshi (Hiroki Narimiya) drops out of his privileged school to become a regular junior-high hood. Dying his hair red and itching for action, he goes toe-to-toe with cool gang leader Tatsuya (Hiro Mizushima) on his first day at his new school. After taking the beating of his life and distinguishing himself only as a loudmouthed greenhorn, Hiroshi is invited to lunch by the gang, which is revealed to have only four (now five) members.

Tatsuya and his band are fearless underdogs, frequently clashing with hoodlums from other schools and even biker gangs. Each conflict is dished up with lashings of violence and an eye for humor, though the yarn does gather gravitas as it rolls along.

True to Shinagawa’s comedic chops, the script crackles with several catchphrases, and the strongest (“People don’t die so easily”) are deployed with both bravado and irony.

The story arc is judiciously paced over the 122-minute running time. A subplot involving Hiroshi’s infatuation with Tatsuya’s on-again/off-again g.f. (Noriko Nakagoshi) is a tad weak, but adequately serves both amusing and dramatic functions.

Riffing on the twentysomething look of each “teenager” in the film, the closing credits note, “This film is fiction. Duh” and “Smoking or drinking alcohol by minors is, of course, strictly forbidden by law.” (The jokes will be more appreciated in Japan, where auds routinely stay seated for the end titles.) Once the viewer accepts the over-age casting conceit, the thesps seem note-perfect in their roles, with even Mizushima adding an illusion of depth to the ostensibly one-note, super-cool Tatsuya. Narimiya is sympathetic in the lead role, gathering more credibility as the narrative progresses.

Smooth direction is underpinned by Hiroshi Sunaga’s adroit cutting and the transitional device of rapidly flicking manga pages (drawn by Dai Suzuki and turning left to right, natch). Fight scenes are well choreographed and appear to put the thesps right in the action. A gutsy metal-guitar soundtrack provides additional adrenaline.

Drop

Japan

Production

A Kadokawa Pictures, Yoshimoto Kogyo, NTT DoCoMo presentation of a Kadokawa Pictures production. (International sales: Kadokawa Pictures, Tokyo.) Produced by Shigeo Minakami, Daisuke Futagi, Hidesuke Kataoka. Executive producers, Taiichi Inoue, Seiji Mizugami. Directed, written by Hiroshi Shinagawa, based on his manga.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Masayuki Fujii; editor, Hiroshi Sunaga; music, Kan Sawada; art directors, Norihiro Isoda, Masatoshi Ishikawa; sound (Dolby Digital), Fusao Yuwaki; action coordinator, Yuta Morokaji. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, April 2, 2009. (In Hong Kong Filmart.) Running time: 122 MIN.

With

Hiroki Narimiya, Hiro Mizushima, Yuika Motokariya, Yusuke Kamiji, Noriko Nakagoshi, Daisuke Miyagawa, Show Aikawa, Yuji Abe, Toru Wakatsuki.
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