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GTO: The Movie
|     review    |     notes      |     availability     |
Takashi Sorimachi (in black) as Onizuka.
Year: 1999
Director: Masayuki Suzuki
Cast: Takashi Sorimachi, Norika Fujiwara, Rena Tanaka, Hideyuki Kasahara
The Skinny: Quickie live-action movie based on the popular Japanese television serial - which was in turn based on the popular manga by Toru Fujisawa. If you're familiar with the actors and the character, then this can be a reasonably entertaining flick. However, the film itself won't be winning any awards anytime soon.
by Kozo:

     Great Teacher Onizuka is the story of Eikichi Onizuka, an unorthodox high school teacher whose decidedly unusual teaching methods make him a hero to the kids, but a menace to the establishment. Conceived as a Japanese manga by Toru Fujisawa, the saga of Great Teacher Onizuka achieved phenomenal success in Japan, spawning an animated television series, a twelve-episode TV drama, and a TV special. Finally, in late 1999, the braintrust of Fuji TV brought us GTO: The Movie, which is what this review happens to be about.
     Unlike the usual GTO storylines, the film takes place as far away from the big city as possible. The setting is the rural town of Horobonai, which is located on Japan's northern-most island of Hokkaido. The local high school has a trouble class, which is mostly due to the presence of Ayano Katsuragi (Rena Tanaka), the local ice princess, whose dad ran a theme park called "Canada Land." Unfortunately, said park went bankrupt and the town is now experiencing a depression, of both the economic and emotional variety. The kids (including Ayano) frequently threaten suicide, and the teachers are your usual motley band of useless types.
     Enter new substitute teacher Onizuka (Takashi Sorimachi, returning from the TV series), who rides into town on his motorbike. Within minutes, he bullies a couple of kids, insults most of the teachers, and generally acts disrespectful and obnoxious. Things are the worst for Raku (Hideyuki Kasahara), a mousy kid who has no friends and contemplates suicide of his own. Onizuka steals money from the kid, accidentally pushes him off a roof (don't worry, he survives), and even badgers Raku into giving him room and board.
     Still, it's all good. Onizuka may seem like your bargain-basement thug (the character was previously in a biker gang), but this is all standard operating procedure for "Great Teacher Onizuka." The popularity of the character is well-documented and actually easily understood. Onizuka may be a societal castoff (he attended a fourth-rate college and is actually dumber than most of his students), but his brash, honest and utterly righteous ways make him a hip youth icon for our troubled times. Considering that Japan's educational system is polluted with corruption, abuse and student-teacher improprieties, Onizuka makes a decidedly refreshing anti-hero.
     Except, that's in the manga, anime and TV series. And despite being cleaned up when adapted from its original form (there are some things you just can't do in live-action), the Great Teacher Onizuka TV series managed its own charm and effective drama. Actor Takashi Sorimachi brought a cool, righteous attitude to the character, and the show managed to find some affecting social commentary. The live-action version proved funny and touching, and though sometimes cheesy (this is Japanese TV we're talking about), the end result was generally worthy.
     The film takes a different tack. At less than two hours, characters and storyline can't really be developed, so the filmmakers put Onizuka in a completely different situation and have him act as weird as possible. The result is that he appears to be an annoying, obnoxious screwball who nevertheless works miracles. Unlike the TV show, where the character grew thorough his experience as a teacher, the movie Onizuka is basically a superhero who knows what's wrong and will go to any length to correct it. And even if the solution involves mugging, police car chases and attempted kidnapping, that's okay.
     Onizuka basically annoys and assaults everyone in town into admitting their personal faults and needs, which promotes "healing" among the town. Yeah, it's all as false as your average John Hughes movie, and the production echoes that with a bouncy tone that makes light of teen suicide and other attempted crimes. The social commentary and vaguely real situations that made the Great Teacher Onizuka franchise great are gone from this film, and what we're left with is a Capraesque fable, which is magnified by the film's framing device. Supermodel Norika Fujiwara (of China Strike Force "fame") plays reporter Kaoru Kitajima, who went to Horobonai to track a criminal, and ended up with a story on the "miraculous" recovery of a town and its people. The reason for that? Onizuka. The suspension of disbelief? Nonexistent.
     As a standalone film, GTO: The Movie can never be termed "good," as it's nothing more than manufactured platitudes surrounding a bizarre central character. Where the film can actually entertain is as another installment for diehard fans of the Great Teacher Onizuka TV show and star Takashi Sorimachi. The situations may be worse, but Sorimachi does bring the same charismatic physical presence to the character that he did on television. Still, it helps if you've actually seen that series, as an understanding of Onizuka's character and history will likely make some sense of things. Without seeing the show, Onizuka can seem bizarre and borderline insane, and will probably prove more annoying than anything else. GTO: The Movie is basically manufactured J-Pop crap which is meant to feed a Japan-specific target audience. With that in mind, the film was likely a success to the intended audience, though why Pony Canyon put English subtitles on the DVD release is a mystery. (Kozo 2000/2002)

Notes: • The saga of Great Teacher Onizuka has gone domestic, as the manga (which runs 25 volumes) and anime (43 half-hour episodes) are currently being published stateside by Tokyopop. Reportedly, they'd actually like to subtitle and distribute the TV Drama in the United States as well. As of 2006, that hasn't happened, though the movie made it stateside courtesy of Media Blasters.
Availability: DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Pony Canyon
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Japanese subtitles Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen