- Original title
- Japanese title
- Running time
- 110 minutes
- 21 September 2001
by Tom Mes
Movies made to cash in on and starring popular musicians have been a staple of international cinema since Richard Lester's comical Beatles vehicle A Hard Day's Night (1964). Ranging from Frank Zappa's 200 Motels (1971), via KISS Meet the Phantom of the Park (1978 - Gordon Hessler) to Spice World (1997 - Bob Spiers), they have been as diverse in their subjects as in their quality.
Japan was in on the game from very early on. As the late 60s saw the emergence of a whole host of post-Beatles 'Group Sound' bands whose popularity quickly skyrocketed, the major studios decided to get in on the game by producing series of films around leading Japanese bands like The Spiders (at Nikkatsu), The Tigers (at Toei) and The Drifters (first at Toho, later at Shochiku). Fast-forward thirty years and we come to Andromedia, the sci-fi themed big screen debut of Speed, an immensely popular quartet of wholesome-looking teenage girl-next-door types. In order to reach as large a pre-pubescent demographic as possible, the producers decided to also throw in the vomit-inducingly named Da Pump, the Japanese equivalent of The Backstreet Boys. Exactly what demographic they were hoping to reach by casting Wong Kar-wai's celebrity cameraman Christopher Doyle as a criminal mastermind in shorts remains unclear.
Aided by his trusty team of lensman Hideo Yamamoto and writer Masa Nakamura (both at the time alumni of the sumptuous The Bird People In China, the film that won the director his first recognition as an artist in Japan), Takashi Miike was let loose upon this ungodly package and came up with, well, a cutesy and entertaining pop idol movie.
Mai (Speed's focal point Hiroko Shimabukuro) is one of four friends whose inseparable bond is being threatened by adolescence and awakening hormones. Struggling with puppy-love relationships, they make that quintessential mistake love-struck movie teenagers always make and come close to gambling their friendship away, just before Mai gets run over by a truck and dies. Mai's father (Watase, brother of 70s screen giant Tetsuya Watari) is a scientist researching the possibility of recording a person's memory as virtual reality, Strange Days-style. No sooner has Mai shuffled her mortal coil, or he conjures up her virtual counterpart Ai whom he uploads with Mai's recorded memory. But a big and evil corporation is after the scientist's findings and dispatches a group of thugs (as big and evil corporations tend to do), led by a surprisingly straight-faced Naoto Takenaka, to take them from him and leave no witnesses. Just before biting the dust himself in the ensuing struggle, dad sends Mai/Ai careening off into the safety of cyberspace, from where she soon appears inside her boyfriend's retro-fitted laptop. Now the chase is on for the laptop and Mai's boyfriend and former friends have to run to keep her out of the slimy villains' greedy hands.
Andromedia is aimed squarely at the pre-adolescent youth market. It's a pop idol movie and there's no way around it. Thankfully, this is not an excuse for stupidity. Though the plot is utterly generic, it's the details that make it work. The film has some unexpected moments of lyrical nostalgia, and unlike many other entries into the cyber sci-fi subgenre (Brett Leonard's The Lawnmower Man in particular), the film is in touch with the times, rather than exploiting what its creators feel is representative and popular. Masa Nakamura's script cleverly incorporates a host of digital age ideas, most prominently the virtual idol phenomenon that started in the mid-90s with Kyoko Date and is currently maturing in the shape of Hironobu Sakaguchi's entirely computer-generated feature film Final Fantasy.
If Andromedia is a piece of juvenalia, it's certainly an entertaining piece. A Hard Day's Night it certainly isn't, but the film is nevertheless dynamic, colourful and thankfully doesn't take itself too seriously. Though I really could have done without the Da Pump music video in the middle...