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Check It Out, Yo!

The gang from Check It Out, Yo!
Japanese: Chekeraccho!  
Year: 2006  
Director: Rieko Miyamoto  
Producer: Toru Ota  
Writer: Takehiko Hata  
  Cast: Hayato Ichihara, Tasuku Emoto, Yuta Hiraoka, Mao Inoue, Ayumi Ito, Konishiki
  The Skinny: Three high school kids try to form their own hip hop band with hilarious results in this intensely likeable, feel good teen comedy from director Rieko Miyamoto.
Review by Calvin McMillin:      It's not hard to see how the very premise of Check It Out, Yo! could result in an altogether cringe-worthy viewing experience in the wrong hands: after attending a local concert, three high school buds decide to form a hip-hop group in order to get rich and score with the ladies. Any filmmaking approach that would somehow glamorize these clueless chaps' entry into the hip hop world would either come off as a derivative 8 Mile-lite or quite possibly feature more posing and preening than your typical Donnie Yen movie.
     However, much to my relief, that's not how Check It Out, Yo! actually unfolds. Although it does fall generally into the broad "realizing your dreams" category of films, it enacts this tried-and-true formula in a far more realistic manner. That's not to say that the film doesn't take some cinematic liberties - especially during its energizing, altogether effective climax - but it's also not the kind of movie where these shiftless, inexperienced young men suddenly become hip hop superstars in the span of the movie's almost two-hour running time. Check It Out, Yo! has its sights on a more rewarding prize.
     The three would-be-rappers in question are Toru Isaka (Hayato Ichihara), Akira Motobe (Tasuku Emoto), and Tetsuo Tamashiro (Yuta Hiraoka, from Swing Girls). Of course, no teen movie would be complete without the tough-as-nails, but somehow covertly adorable tomboy gal pal, and Check It Out Yo! is no exception to this rule, as we are introduced to the boys' female friend, Yui Haebaru (Mao Inoue), early on. After a bit of tomfoolery in the initial part of the film, the plot kicks in when Yui invites the boys to go to a local concert with her. Toru, who at this point has slowly emerged as the film's lead, runs into a girl named Nagisa (Ayumi Ito), who was introduced earlier in the film. Meanwhile, the other two guys find that the concert is teeming with over-excited girls, and not surprisingly, all three of them get caught up in the energy of the place. Of course, it isn't long before they decide to form their own group. There's one problem, however: none of them seem to have any talent!
     What follows is a comical series of events in which the boys find themselves booked as the opening act for the local band, Workaholic, under the false pretenses that they're really an award-winning, up-and-coming group. With Yui's help, they try to get their act together, and although they look the part, the concert goes predictably awry. It's a crushing defeat for the boys, especially Toru, who had hoped to win Nagisa's affections. As a result, it seems like there's nothing more for them to do but give up and return to their collective do-nothing existence. But as one might expect, the boys decide to turn things around and put on a concert of their own. Along the way, it's revealed that Yui has a crush on Toru, and will stop at nothing to help him further his dreams, even if that dream involves him hooking up with Nagisa instead. Can there be a happy ending for everyone?
     One nice thing about Check It Out, Yo! is that the filmmakers make a point of distinguishing between the local band and the boys' group, dubbed 098 in honor of Okinawa's area code. Whereas the local band comes across as polished and professional, Toru and company are appropriately depicted as complete posers at first, and the movie isn't afraid to portray them as ludicrous little boys. Toru often comes across as a big baby, Akira is the timid nerd, and Tetsuo, the "coolest" of the bunch is just as goofy as the other two. In addition, their rapping is juvenile as is their rhyming, and rather realistically, they are justly "rewarded" whenever it's time for their first big concert. This method really draws out the fact that Check It Out, Yo! is a coming of age story, giving the characters a clearly identifiable staring point from which they can grow and mature.
     Although I use variations on the term "realistic" a few times in this review, I should also mention that there are several purposely unrealistic elements in the film. From the glorious out-of-nowhere scenes in which people break into song just like an old-fashioned musical to the recurring appearance of a deceased character, it's clear that Check It Out, Yo! is not meant to be a sober documentary. In fact, it follows a certain familiar formula and subscribes to various teen movie conventions. As mentioned earlier, we have a familiar storyline: best friend/tomboy likes the lead boy, who likes the unattainable "It Girl," who herself has some unresolved relationship issues with the "Cool Guy," who just so happens to be the lead singer of Workaholic.
     The resolution of this time-tested storyline is fairly predictable, but the way in which it unfolds is both intriguing and compelling to watch. For instance, there is a climactic concert done solely for Nagisa's benefit, but it is triumphant in a way that is not as simple as "boy gets girl." In fact, while it's spot-on perfect "in the moment," Toru fails to achieve his intended goal. However, he achieves something else which is far more satisfying. And if adding a fourth person to the love triangle wasn't enough, Check It Out, Yo! adds a fifth player, whose emergence is surprising, illuminating, and purposely unresolved. It's a nice move to reflect how some teen crushes simply don't always get satisfactorily worked out.
     The casting is spot-on, though male lead Hayato Ichihara often comes across as a bit grating. Although cast as a sidekick, Yuta Hiraoka might have been a better choice as a more convincing leading man (as he was in Swing Girls), but considering the personal journey Toru makes, Ichihara is very effective in conveying the boyishness and blatant immaturity of the character. Attractive and engaging, Mao Inoue proves to be very effective in her role as Yui, and although clearly more likeable than her rival, she is evenly matched by Ayumi Ito's take on the more enigmatic Nagisa.
     The Okinawa setting of Check It Out, Yo! is infused with a colorful, laid-back quality that informs much of the look and feel. The film is just as much about the community as it is about the boys and the love plot. There's a small role for sumo wrestler Kinishiki (playing Yui's brother-in-law), and there's an eclectic, altogether quirky set of characters that help color the main plot. The film also features several songs by the popular musical group Orange Range, which prove to be a welcome presence on the soundtrack.
     Both visually and aurally satisfying, Check It Out, Yo! is a light, "feel-good" sort of movie. It's colorful, inventive, and energizing, and while it may not change your life, it certainly delivers plenty of belly laughs and a slew of intensely likeable performances. If this film is any indication of future success, Rieko Miyamoto may just be a director to keep your eye on. (Calvin McMillin, 2006)
Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1 / DTS 5.1
Removable English and Japanese Subtitles
Various Extras
   Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen