After the somewhat disappointing Innocent Blood, this prequel was a pleasant surprise; it's a much more focused piece that does an excellent job of capturing the innocent spirit of youth. The central characters are the same; here, they're still at school, but their personalities aren't so different, and it's easy to see why they turned out as they did. This is especially true for Riichi, whose family is so dysfunctional as to be comedic - though I rapidly stopped smiling when his grandpa sodomises Riichi's father with a broom-handle for dissing a teacher. It's a miracle our hero didn't end up a serial-killer.
Despite that scene, better suited to the hyperviolent end of Miike's output, this is a kinder, gentler movie, set mostly in the summer of 1969 (mercifully, without Bryan Adams). Racked by student riots, Japan still found time, like everywhere else, to hold its breath and watch Apollo 11 land on the moon. Riichi and friends decide to make a replica of the lunar module in order to win a school contest, and get some paints for their grandmother - though as one points out, they're stealing all the materials, why not just steal the paint? With disarming kid logic, they continue with their mission anyway.
Unlike its predecessor, it's easy to relate to the characters. We were all that age, and it seems that Japanese children are no different to anywhere else; events in the outside world matter much less than having adventures with your pals. [When the children here strike out on their own, it's with a delightful naivety regarding distance] The young actors come across as entirely natural, and there are wonderful flourishes like the use of Morricone's spaghetti western music when Riichi's posse face their rivals. Miike calls this his favourite film and it's not too hard to see why: maybe this one should have been called Tiny Goon Adventures.
[This film is released on October 26th in the US, and November 30th in the UK: the DVD has an interview with the director, filmographies, and background info on Osaka. For more information, visit ArtsMagic's website.]