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“Check it Out, Yo!” is nothing you haven’t seen before, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying it. A mostly innocuous teen comedy about three directionless male high school chums who decide to form a hip-hop group in order to get chicks, and their tomboy female buddy who tags along, “Check It Out, Yo!” has a lot in common with the recent spate of Japanese teen comedies that seek to inspire by using an external form (jazz music in “Swing Girls”, synchronized swimming in “Waterboys”) as a hook. And like those other movies, director Rieko Miyamoto’s “Check it Out, Yo!” is a funny, inspirational, and pleasing two hours.
Our tale begins with buddies Toru (Hayato Ichihara), Akira (Tasuku Emoto), and Tetsuo (Yuta Hiraoka) accepting an offer from tomboy bud Yui (Mao Inoue) to attend a rap concert by a local hip hop band. There, Toru reunites with the beguiling Nagisa (Ayumi Ito), who he had already met once and fell in love with after she saves him from drowning. Realizing that there are a lot of girls at this concert (including Yui’s married big sister, a self-described groupie), the boys come to a moment of Eureka! and decide to form a hip hop band. Yui goes along, mainly because she’s always harbored a crush for Toru, but has never found the courage to tell him. As the “wrestling freak” of the group, it’s easier for Yui to kick Toru around than confess her feelings.
Ah, such is teen love.
For a movie sold on the concept of “kids get into hip hop to get chicks and hilarity ensues,” the film’s adventures in hip hop takes less space in the overall minutes than you might expect. The big premise doesn’t even enter until almost the 30 minute mark, and it takes another 30 minutes for the novice band to get booed off stage and assaulted by Okinawa’s reigning hip hop kings, the Workaholics. The frontman of which, as coincidence would have it, is also Nagisa’s boyfriend, which as you might expect further complicates matters. Although curiously, the 25-year old Nagisa sure likes stringing our teen-something hero along. You could even call it cruel what she’s doing if you were so inclined. But then again, Ayumi Ito is just so darn cute.
Much of the film’s comedy is, not surprisingly, derived from the boys attempts to learn their new craft, including mastering their stolen instruments (they would eventually discover the joys of sampling later on), and write lyrics to their songs. The words “tacos”, “macho”, and “check it out yo” come up often. Needless to say, our wannabe rappers are clueless, made worst by their insincerity to the art, a running theme the screenplay by Takehiko Hata manages to slip in throughout the film, giving “Check It Out, Yo!” a welcome depth that is not the least bit odious.
Not surprising to regular viewers of Japanese teen comedies, “Check It Out, Yo!” does divert into dramatic territory at expected intervals, although thankfully, we aren’t talking about the kind of 180-degree tone shifts that one is liable to find in your average Korean comedies. Unfortunately, once the comedy gets shelved in favor of these “real” teen moments, the film does get a tad dull. Matters aren’t helped by lead Hayato Ichihara, whose “screaming as acting” method is amusing during the comedy moments, but practically untenable during the dramatic scenes. This is made doubly worst because everyone seems to be acting on an even keel, while Ichihara screams his lungs out.
Still, “Check It Out, Yo!” is a very entertaining film, with enough funny moments to keep audiences laughing. Even its teen drama, including a somewhat generic love triangle between Toru, Yui, and Nagisa, is handled in some unexpected ways. To be sure, we’ve seen this before in countless teen films, where the hero doesn’t notice that the perfect girl for him is the one next to him instead of the one he’s chasing. To its credit, “Check It Out, Yo!” does buck the predictable ending, throwing something of a monkey wrench into the triumvirate of Toru, Yui, and Nagisa by way of a fourth person.
Despite the gimmicky use of hip hop as its main selling point, the film does seem to have something to say underneath all the madness. The movie’s familial elements, in particular the relationships between the male teen characters and their respective fathers, is affecting and easy to relate to for anyone who has had such complications with their own fathers at that age. To give the film its due, while it plays some of these father-son moments for laughs, it never trivializes them, giving the film some very welcoming and heartfelt moments.
Fans of Japanese teen comedies like “Waterboys” and “Swing Girls” would do well to pick up “Check It Out, Yo!” It’s more of the same, but in this case, that’s not such a bad thing. You won’t be disappointed.
Rieko Miyamoto (director) / Takehiko Hata (screenplay)
CAST: Hayato Ichihara …. Toru Isaka
Tasuku Emoto …. Akira Motobe
Yuta Hiraoka …. Tetsuo Tamashiro
Mao Inoue …. Yui Haebaru
Ayumi Ito …. Nagisa