Bounce Ko Gals
- Original title
- Bounce Ko Gals
- Japanese title
- バウンス ko GALS
- Alternative title
- Running time
- 106 minutes
- 20 March 2001
by Jasper Sharp
Vending machines selling soiled schoolgirl panties; employees hired to squeeze commuters onto their awaiting trains on a daily basis; the Sadean spectacle of the 'Endurance' game show, where contestants are subjected to a host of physical and psychological tortures designed to push their tolerance to their absolute limits in pursuit of a hefty cash prize - portrayals of Japan over on this side of the world have misleadingly tended to focus on the more outlandish aspects. The phenomenon of high school girls (ko gyaru) pimping themselves out on paid dates (enjo kosai) therefore proved inevitably irresistible to the vicarious imaginations of similarly consumer-driven societies in the West ("It couldn't possibly happen here!"), as well as sending out serious shock waves back home in Japan.
The reality was no doubt exaggerated by the demands of an international media that picks up on the anomalies rather than the typicalities of any culture in their search for print. However, with their loose white socks, pink lipstick, and mobile phones, these 'ko gyaru' call-girls offering a quick turn on the karaoke machine to straight-laced, middle-aged salarymen for the price of a Gucci handbag was inevitably going to prove a sensational hook to cultures in which the idea that a girl beneath the age of 18 can be found sexually attractive is so outré that a film such as Adrian Lyne's recent glossy adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita failed to find a theatrical distributor in the US and incited pages of invective in the UK tabloids.
With titles such as Coed Report: Yuko's White Breasts (Jokosei Ripoto: Hanahiraku Yuko, 1971 - Yukihiko Kondo) and Uniform Girls: The Fruit is Ripe (Seifuku Taiken Torio: Watashi Uregoro, 1981 - Shogoro Nishimura) nestling amongst Nikkatsu's softcore output and in a country noted for its fetishisation of young girls, it is interesting to find a film which addresses the issues of the Japanese 'rori-kon' or lolita-complex in a non-exploitative and highly spirited manner. By all accounts Bounce Ko Gals certainly created quite a stir upon its original release in Japan, riding the domestic media storm and picking up a number of awards in the process.
Fresh out of her high school in the northern city of Sendai, Lisa (Yukiko Okamoto) is en route to study in New York where she wishes to forge a new life. Upon arrival in Tokyo, she stops off in the Shibuya district with the idea of making some quick bucks before flying off to America the following morning. After trading in her smalls at a 'burusera' shop (a fetish shop which deals in schoolgirl uniforms and soiled underwear), she is set up on a makeshift video shoot featuring a number of girls dressed up in school uniforms bouncing up and down with balloons. Here she encounters the similarly-aged Raku (Yasue Sato) before the shoot is disrupted by a gang of thugs, and in the resulting escape she loses all of the money she has spent the past year working for.
Faced with the task of earning back her lost money before her departure, she is introduced by Raku to the hard-hearted Jonko (Hitomi Sato), who sets up and agrees to accompany her on a number of lucrative paid dates over the course of the evening, a quick and immediate solution to her predicament. In the meantime, Jonko is being warned away from her own enterprises by yakuza boss Oshima (the omnipresent Koji Yakusho, of Shall We Dance and Cure fame), who sees these 'kyo garu' hookers as impinging on his own local monopoly of the sex industry.
Masato Harada lived in Los Angeles during the 1970s, working as a Golden Globe critic, reporting on the Hollywood movie scene for the Japanese press. Since then he has divided his time between Japan and the States, returning home to make the sporadic film (Goodbye Movie Fans: An Indian Summer in 1979, Gunhed in 1989, Kamikaze Taxi in 1995 and more recently Inugami). It is this objective distance from his own culture that has informed much of the director's work, in this case enabling him to use this 'outsider' perspective to bring his own slant to such a shocking national trend.
Like most of Harada's attempts at transferring Hollywood hyperbole to his homeland, Bounce Kogals comes across as uneven and compromised in its concessions to mainstream audience expectations, with uncomfortable shifts in tone between heavy-handed drama, didactic moralising and feel-good female bonding between our three attractive guides through this seedy twilight world, all portrayed in a remarkably cutesy and squeeky clean fashion. However, whilst refusing to pass moral judgement on his female subjects, the sexual attitudes and economic realities of male-oriented Japanese society come in for some heavy criticism.
In presenting these harsh home truths in such a blunt fashion, it is the men that are portrayed as pitiable and there to be exploited, sad perverts and lonely old has-beens eager to recapture their youths for a few brief moments by fucking their way back into it. You can hardly blame the girls for wanting to capitalise on their weaknesses. In an early scene, one of the girls recounts that she was approached and offered 100,000 yen for her shit by a middle-aged businessman in the street. Another character announces that these guys were too busy jerking off and studying to have girlfriends when they were at high school. Jonko herself swears she never engages in the sexual act with her clients, offering little more than conversation for her steep asking price, and often pick-pocketing her clients under the postulation that they will be too embarrassed to report the incident to the police.
The semi-documentary style portrayal of the dynamics between the three main characters and the milieu in which they operate is witty, naturalistically shot with captivating and sympathetic performances from all of the main actresses. Bounce Kogals trots along at a brisk pace through a lively succession of set pieces and is generally entertaining and compelling. It's a film that was obviously crying out to be made, but you never quite get the feeling that Harada is presenting us with whole picture. He is so busy sermonising that he never really comes to terms with what makes any of these perky young characters tick in the first place.