CGI-happy helmer Fumihiko Sori ("Vexille," "Ping Pong") takes a silly and melodramatic shot at a boxing title with "Tomorrow's Joe."
CGI-happy helmer Fumihiko Sori (“Vexille,” “Ping Pong”) takes a silly and melodramatic shot at a boxing title with “Tomorrow’s Joe.” Helmer’s unwillingness to shake off cartoonish sensibilities leads to overuse of ludicrous effects in this adaptation of a popular manga, about a rebellious street fighter challenging a national champ. Fueled by the source material’s fan base, pic scored ¥977 million ($12 million) at the Japanese B.O. in February, but this effort won’t be a contender beyond Asian markets, where J-pop heartthrob Tomohisa Yamashita quickens teenage pulses.
In a fanciful and polished simulacrum of Tokyo’s postwar slums, Joe Yabuki (Yamashita) is a taciturn tough guy whose handsome looks charm everyone from local street kids to alcoholic boxer Danpei (Teruyuki Kagawa). Danpei is up to his patched eyeball in debt, and when bill-collecting yakuza come looking for him, Joe intervenes. The silent young man displays considerable boxing skills battling the thugs, but ends up being arrested for his trouble.
In jail, Joe gets into brawl after brawl with fellow inmates and guards. Only an altercation with imprisoned boxing champ Tetsu Rikiishi (Yusuke Iseya) restrains — temporarily — the amateur scrapper. But humiliation at Rikiishi’s hands only ignites Joe’s determination to beat the pro pugilist in the ring.
Before the pair both emerge from the slammer, Joe and the champ agree to a formal rematch that will be a fight to “the end.” The bout finishes on a freeze-frame of the two opponents, their fists in each other’s faces — a cartoonish, CG-heavy image that signals the pic’s transition from unsophisticated and juvenile to outlandish and ludicrous.
Anime and sci-fi fans appreciative of the helmer’s work in “Vexille” and “To” won’t balk at Sori’s ad nauseam use of f/x to heighten the drama; nor will manga fans worry about the pic’s repetitious and naively dramatized boxing matches. However, other auds may cry uncle well before the yarn reaches its drawn-out finale.
On the plus side, wiry players Yamashita and Iseya are plausible as bantam- and featherweight boxers, respectively. Yamashita’s pop-star sultriness lends his driven, enigmatic street fighter a sense of mystery, and Iseya is believable as a man both threatened and flattered by an up-and-comer who wants to take him on. Mono-monikered thesp Karina, on the other hand, is unable to go beyond cliched Japanese femininity with her role as Rikiishi’s agent.
Keiji Hashimoto’s lensing is as clear and crisp as comicbook frames, and production values are topnotch. Other tech credits are of high quality.