April 8, 2007

A School Uniform and a Machine Gun

A while ago I downloaded the Japanese drama セーラー服と機関銃 (A School Uniform and a Machine Gun) and I've finally gotten around to watching the first episode. Sometimes Japanese dramas can be really hit and miss, but this one looks kind of interesting. I've decided to write a brief summary of the episodes as I watch them. The opening sequence is pretty interesting, they do some filming in front of the Asakusa Kaminarimon temple, one of the most famous temples in Tokyo. I've summarized each episode in the series below.

Episode 1

The first episode opens with a 17 year old school girl, Hoshi Izumi, late for school. (Side note: is there any anime, manga, or drama whose main female character is not introduced by waking up late?) She lost her mother and lives alone with her father. She is a bit of a nerd, and teased for studying hard, but seems pretty smart and not disliked anyway. We are also introduced to the Medaka group (目高組), a small Yakuza clan with five members. Their leader is dying, and asks as a last request that they make his son (estranged perhaps) into the leader of their gang.

While in school, Izumi is informed that her father has died. He was on his way to a business trip, but was hit by a bus. After the funeral, she's a bit depressed and decides to go to Asakusa, where her father promised to take her to see a movie when he came back from his trip. When she was three years old their whole family went to a festival there before her mother died. By coincidence she runs into Sakuma, the next in line to be the head of the Medaka clan. He thinks she is going to jump off a bridge and tries to convince her not to do it.

Meanwhile, trying to track down the dead Medaka Chief's estranged son, they learn that he is dead now. Of course, it turns out that he is Izumi's father. They show up at her school to call her out, and try to convince her to become their new leader (since her father was supposed to be the leader, but he has passed on.) She doesn't want to do it and leaves.

A new, powerful Yakuza clan has returned to Asakusa after a long absence. I'm not clear on the reason why. They want to move in on Medaka's business, or shut it down entirely, and offer Sakuma a lot of money to work for them. Sakuma tells the rest of the guys in the Medaka clan that after this last festival, they will dissolve the Medaka clan.

Izumi returns home to see that her apartment has been trashed. We meet an investigator who tells her that the people did not find what they were looking for, and oh, by the way, your father was involved in deep, dangerous affairs with the Yakuza, and it is highly probable that he was murdered. Izumi runs off to confront the leader of the Medaka clan, Sakuma, who she thinks is involved.

At the festival in Asakusa Sakuma explains that they did not have anything to do with it. In fact, the people in their group are all pretty much violence-free: one of the guys who joined used to be a police officer, but had to quit when his wife got cancer. Another guy used to be a computer hacker, then had to join up when he was caught and couldn't be employed as a regular employee because of his criminal record. Another guy was teased as a kid and became a shut-in, only getting out and sociable when he became friendly with one of the Medaka members. Their main line of work involves managing the festival booths and keeping people from fighting at them.

Sakuma gives Izumi a picture from when she was three years old with her mother, father, and herself at a festival in Asakusa (the one that was referenced before.) She forgets it, and when she goes back to pick it up, stops Sakuma from committing ritualistic suicide because of the opposition from the strong rival Yakuza clan. She determines to become the head of their clan to find out who was really behind her father's death.

At the end of the episode, we see a politician who informs a lackey that they must "find the thing" and "take care of it" - presumably he is behind having Izumi's house torn up to search for something that her father had.

Episode 2

The Medaka clan is attacked by the Hamaguchi group, the powerful opposition group I spoke about earlier. Their group is the only group that stood in opposition to them. They have more than 500 people, so it is not possible to fight. Izumi asks why they don't just try to talk to get along, and pisses off one of the members (Hideki) who doesn't really think she should be their chief. When they try to explain that their group exists to counter the action of the Hamaguchi since many generations back they use some words that she doesn't understand and she takes notes on what they mean. Heh. I don't understand them either.

The police finally show up after all the gunshots and that inspector's aide who speaks in some crazy dialect shows up again. The Medaka clan doesn't understand what he says, so he points to the (conveniently appearing) subtitles. They sneak Izumi out and tell the police that they don't have a new chief yet.

The next day the attack on their group makes the papers. Everyone in Medaka is surprised that their new chief went to school. They expected her to show up there for a meeting. At school, the students are all going crazy because the picture in the paper shows someone in their school's uniform at the scene, and of course the teachers are very upset about that as well. At the Medaka group they as her to quit school to be the group leader. The job of the chief is to protect everyone from trouble and perform management of things. Sakuma explains that he has to work to keep conflict and fights from breaking out in Asakusa as an arbitrator and mediator. Izumi promises to both go to school and diligently work as the chief of the Medaka clan.

Just at that point some trouble breaks out (the place is trashed by some Yakuza) at the Rockza strip club... (I can't believe it, but it looks like Rockza is a real place. I'm shocked that they would have a real strip club on tv! I didn't even know they had strip clubs in Japan?) The staff at the club are shocked when Izumi is introduced as the new chief of the Medaka clan, and then she faints at the sight of blood. It is decided that Izumi and Sakuma will go to the Hamaguchi tomorrow to talk to them about the incident at the club.

When going home, Izumi meets a woman who claims to be her father's lover. She came to tell Izumi about the side of her father that she doesn't know about. After she leaves, Izumi "studies" for the meeting by watching old Yakuza movies. She makes a fool of herself at the meeting the next day. Even though Izumi and Sakuma went to talk to Hamaguchi but many shops and places in Asakusa were still attacked by the Hamaguchi group. Their "clients" were advised to switch to the protection of the Hamaguchi group.

Izumi reads the letter that herfather's lover passed to her, and decides to follow in his footsteps. She doesn't go to school, and instead goes to Asakusa, where she and two others are attacked at the strip club, which has switched over to the protection of the Hamaguchi. She is told that if she wants them to quit beating people up, then she needs to strip for them. So then she gives a speech about how she couldn't protect them as the chief, so she'll try to do what she can. In the end Sakuma is moved to also dogeza and ask for the hamaguchi to back off. They are granted a reprieve for that day. After the other Yakuza leave, Izumi breaks down into tears, but the others are also impressed by her bravery in the face of such a scary situation, as are the shopkeepers of Asakusa. Man, I wish I understood more of that speech, but Yakuza talk in hard to understand Japanese.

Episode 3

While cleaning the Medaka place after the attack, Izumi finds a bunch of guns and grenades. She asks for an explanation, and they explain that they are just toys that Sakuma likes (but they are clearly lying.) There is a bit of comedy before Sakuma returns and explains that they are real and are used for protection. Also, Sakuma bought some contact lenses for Izumi, who has had a running joke of having her of having her glasses broken.

A lackey was hired by Hamaguchi to kill Izumi, and attacks the group after they take a picture. He runs off and isn't caught, but Sakuma recognized him. The reality of Izumi's position (leader of a Yakuza clan, prone to be attacked) starts to really hit her. The other members of the Medaka group become her bodyguard, and walk her to school while she's in a ridiculous bulletproof jacket. Actually, I think it is a Kendo outfit. When Sakuma goes to a graveyard to visit someone (perhaps his ex-lover?) he bumps into the assassin (Yuji?) again. In the ensuing chase Sakuma was shot in the arm. Yuji has some reason to want to kill Sakuma, the actual target of the assassination attempt (not Izumi.) Yuji used to be like (?) Sakuma's younger brother. There was a group about 10 years ago that also tried to steal their territory, and at that time he was targeted for assassination again. When the assassin came to shoot him, his lover (Yuji's sister) took the bullet instead of him. Since then, Sakuma has kept the ring that he intended to give to Naoko, to follow his dream of having a family. He blames himself for losing his own dream by his own hand because of his path as a Yakuza.

Later, Izumi decides that the Medaka group is a family, and wants to go search for the place that Sakuma used to live before Naoko was shot. While going there, she is taken to a warehouse by Yuji. Yuji is pissed that Sakuma is still a Yakuza, and hasn't changed at all since Naoko's death. Izumi gives another speech about how Naoko was trying to protect Sakuma, not that she was killed by him. Izumi tells Yuji to look in her pocket (she's tied up and has a gun pointed at her) where he finds the ring. Sakuma had proposed just before Naoko's death for the three of them to become a family, and that even when he was shot by Yuji he tried to protect him by keeping the rest of the Medaka group from going after him. She ends on a speech about how the Medaka group is a family and blah blah. The power of speeches and all that. Of course, it works. Just then, some guys from the Hamaguchi group show up, who try to kill Yuji but Sakuma steps in to take the bullet. They showed up to take Izumi, but the rest of the Medaka show up and there is a big fight. The Medaka group cleans up (I don't see how since the others all had guns, but still.) Izumi gets pissed, and pulls out a gun on the leader of the thugs, about to kill him. Just then, Sakuma gets up, and seems fine. The protection charms that Izumi bought earlier and gave to everyone in the group stopped the bullet. Yuji and Sakuma make up, things seem fine at the end.

Until three of Izumi's classmates run into her with the gang, the Hamaguchi tear up the Medaka group's place (after they just cleaned it up), and Izumi's father's lover goes to a political rally by the politician that is pulling the strings and gives him some evil looks while ripping up one of his posters.

Episode 4

Returning back to the Medaka HQ, their place was trashed again, but nothing was taken. They suspect that whoever trashed Izumi's place looking for information about her father's "heroine" came there to look as well. Later, Takeshi (the computer guy, who self professes to being a coward) was beat up when the Hamaguchi went looking for information about the "heroine", which is apparently something that her father had (not a person?) If she doesn't turn it over, the Medaka group will be crushed. While arguing about the "heroine" (Takeshi wants it returned or they will all be beat up) the Inspector shows up, and tells them that Izumi's dad was a drug courier. He had about 5 Kilograms of heroin somewhere - so it is the drug, not a female hero. Izumi is shocked that her father might be involved in such business.

Izumi is confronted by the three girls (her friends) at her school who saw her at the fireworks, and ask her if it is true that she is involved with the Yakuza. They all seem pretty scared though, and tell her that they do not want to get involved. Later, Izumi runs into Takeshi as he is looking to buy a suit to interview for a position as a software engineer. The others are really pissed that he wants to quit. Takeshi's afraid because he isn't good at fighting, and thinks that if he did know about the heroin he would have talked, and he doesn't have the courage to protect Izumi / the Medaka group. The head of the Hamaguchi group was told not to hurt "the high school kid" (one of the guys following Izumi was told that on the phone.)

Izumi meets again with his father's lover. She tells her that she should know her father best, and to believe in him. The lover lady stayed at Izumi's place, and Izumi gave her a key. Izumi goes to visit Takeshi's place, and tells him to try to find work if he wants. She gives him a 法被, a kind of overcoat with the Medaka group emblem, and tells him that he will always be a part of the Medaka group and to think of them. Then they make a pinky-finger promise that he would be able to make things better (fix things) and then be useful to other people again. How cute. The Hamagroup beat up the older guy and the young blond guy, then called Izumi to bring the heroin the next day.

Izumi went alone, because she wanted to find out the truth about her father. The others in the Medaka group don't know where she went, and are trying to find her. Takeshi goes to an interview to become a software engineer. He is asked why he wants to work at that company, which he has some trouble answering (settles on "I want to test myself") and when asked what his purpose in life is (what one lives for) he flashes back to some other things that were said earlier. For example: when you came to our group you said you weren't good at violence, but wanted to be able to be useful in areas other than that, and if you don't have the courage to protect the chief (Izumi) then you won't be able to do anything in the straight world either. He replies that what he wants to do is to protect people that are important to him, and then puts on the Medaka group jacket to go and save Izumi.

The Hamaguchi have Izumi up on a big crane sort of thing and keep dunking her into some nasty water or waste or something. Takeshi shows up and exchanges the heroin for Izumi. Of course, it isn't heroin, it is flour or something. Then he gets beat up. Takeshi tells Izumi to run, and then gets stabbed with a knife. After stabbing Takeshi, the Hamaguchi leave (and the police show up because the knife is so loud?) No, it looks like the other Medaka group brought them there. But the others are really proud of him and don't want him to die. But he dies.

The Inspector says that he's sorry for being late. Mayumi (the father's love) calls her father and tells him that she has something to say about the heroin. (I don't know who her father is though.)

Episode 5

Takeshi did, in fact, die. As the Medaka members remember him, the Hamaguchi call and tell them that there will be more deaths unless they hand over the heroin. Izumi gets in a big argument with everyone else when they try to break out the weapons for revenge against the Hamaguchi. The older guy says that he thinks that actually, there is more behind this than just the hamaguchi and heroin, and involves the futtouchyou. Just then the Inspector walks in and tells them that if they hand over the heroin to the hamaguchi it will be a bad scene, and they need to work with the police to protect Asakusa. Everyone decides to go out and look for information about the heroin. Izumi decides that she will try to find out some information about it also, and applies for a sabbatical from school.

The Inspector appears to be involved with the Hamaguchi somehow - he got a phone call from them and said that he started to search for the heroin with the Medaka group because Hamaguchi was too tentative. We also see Mayumi with the shadowy politician. Ken wonders if Yakuza can go to heaven, while talking with the older guy about Takeshi. Then the Hamaguchi come and beat them up again, also Izumi's apartment has been trashed again. Kenji has been kidnapped, the old man beat up and dropped off. They call up Izumi and ask for the heroin while trying to get Kenji to save "come and save me" (but he doesn't.) The old man advises Izumi to think only of the Medaka group, and to search for the heroin and call the police.

Izumi is really worried if it is ok to let things be this way without trying to save Kenji. Sakuma reminds Izumi that Kinzou (the older guy) used to be a police guy, had to quit (for some reason) then his wife passed away from cancer. After that he took in the kid Kenji, and to him he is really more like a son. Izumi overhears a conversation between Sakuma and Kinzou that basically reaffirms that. Sakuma goes to visit Mayumi to ask her questions about the heroin. After Sakuma leave, Mayumi goes to a locker in a train station and retrieves something. Mayumi says that she just sent the thing that Izumi has been desperately searching for to their group, and she wants to talk to Izumi. She wants to talk to Izumi about something though. The heroin did show up though. While everyone is gone except for Kinzou, Hamaguchi calls and says time is up. He pulls out a sword and says that he is going to send one of Kenji's legs (from the knee down apparently.) He decides to go to save Kenji so he sends the baseball bat guy off to a place while he watches the place. Once he's gone he takes the heroin to exchange for Kenji.

Izumi says that she understands that Kinzou wants to go alone to try to protect Kenji. She also was thinking about not going to the police because it would be too difficult for Kinzou to lose Kenji. Kinzou goes to hand over the heroin, and insists that they hand over Kenji first, he'll die before he gives over the heroin otherwise. As they are beating him up, the Inspector shows up (his assistant police guy that talks funny also previously noticed that Kuroki (the inspector) did not alert the police to the kidnapping incident that he relayed to him earlier, and was looking at him suspiciously) and asks what they are doing. When Kinzou asks what he is going there, the Inspector replies asking him what he is doing there when he told him to hand over the heroin to the police in the first place to work with him. Yes, he is indeed working with Hamaguchi, and shoots Kenji in the leg. Kinzou throws the bag of heroin away and then gets shot in the back while he runs to Kenji. The assistant (Inaba?) shows up and shoots at the Inspector as Kenji and Kinzou try to make their escape. The Inspector shoots the assistant, then shoots Kinzou as he protects Kenji. He manages to get Kenji out of the building, tells him to tell the chief about Kuroki (the Inspector) and then shuts the warehouse door. Kenji gets back to the Medaka group and warns them that Kuroki is involved. Mayumi tells them that that was not what she was promised, and that Kuroki is not the Futtochyou, the Futtochyou is the shady politician, Sanda Hajime, (I think I got that right), her father.

Episode 6

The episode opens with Mayumi in the Medaka group's office, about to explain to them about something, but they are then attacked by a large number of people outside (including Inspector Kuroki in the group) but Mayumi runs out to confront them, telling them to stop. By the time Izumi gets out there, everyone is gone. Afterwards, the young guy who was shot in the thigh is taken to a veteraniarian who removes the bullet, but tells them that they have to leave by tomorrow morning, since his place is after all, a veteranary and not a hospital. The police have arrived back at the Medaka group's place, where they tell the police that Kuroki is in league with the Hamaguchi group and is smuggling heroin, but the police do not believe them. They are, after all, yakuza themselves.

Mayumi wrote a letter to Izumi telling her why she had the heroin. Before Izumi's father went on his trip, he told her that she should take care of Izumi if something happened to him. Also, as he was getting up, the key to a coin locker fell out of his jacket, but he didn't know whose it was and told her to take it to the police (lost and found) - but after he died and she opened it up it was the heroin. She didn't take it to the police because she thought that her father might be behind it, and if so she would not be able to protect Izumi, so she went to hide it somewhere else. She apologizes for how things worked out. She doesn't know how the key ended up in her father's jacket, or why her father was killed, but she does know that somehow the Futtouchyou is involved.

Izumi takes the others from her group to talk with Sanda Hajime (the politicain, Futtotyou.) Kuroki shows up at the office when they are talking to Sanda (who ducks out for a meeting) and tells Izumi that her father was not involved in drugs, and in fact did die in a regular traffic accident. Kuroki was at the airport for a smuggling job, but the police were there on the trail already, so he took the heroin and stuck it in a locker. He hid the key in her father's jacket, which he intended to get back before the guy's flight (he knew the time because he saw the ticket and would just get it from him before he boarded) but since her father died in the accident that didn't happen. He told her the lies about her father being pushed because he knew that she was in some way related to the Medaka group, and is happy overall because he got the heroin safely back. They can't go to the police because Kuroki is the police.

Back in the Medaka group's place, Izumi laments that this is all her fault: it would not have happened had she and her father not gotten involved. She apologizes profusely (two people in the group have already died!) Izumi goes out onto the roof, and the remaining members argue that they want to protect the group still, even though Sakura warns them that they might not return alive. They get some fireworks and go out on the roof with Izumi to all do fireworks together. They then do a "hanabi himitsu taikai" where each person has to tell a secret before their sparkler goes out. The baseball guy confesses that he really likes their kumi-chyou (chief) now. The other young guy confesses that he didn't like school when he was young because he was teased but he is very impressed that Izumi was able to both continue her school work and be their chief this time. Izumi confesses how she likes each of the people in the group (saying a nice thing about each person, even the dead ones.) The next day Sakuma tries to make her go back to school and not come with them, asking her what she would do if she goes back to the Yakuza world: everyone will die. They said that they would agree to dissolve the group.

Kenji and the other young guy knock out Sakuma and then go to stake out Sanda's place, and Kenji is killed by the Hamaguchi as they chase after Sanda to kill him. When the hamaguchi come in to take out the other guy he shows them that he has a bunch of dynamite (or something) strapped to his chest, and then gives a speech about how happy he was. He goes to light the fuse, but his lighter won't light, and is killed. Sakuma shows up and finds them both dying. (The other kid is Hideki - I can't remember his name.)

Back in the Medaka group Izumi returns, saying that she does not want them to break up the group. But Kenji and the other kid are already dead. Izumi says that she is the one that decides whether the group can be dissolved or not, and Sakuma pledges to protect her. She picks up the machine gun.

Episode 7

The episode opens with Izumi remembering each of the members of the Medaka group. Then she and Sakuma decide to go to face Sanda. More flashbacks follow. They bust into the main room with Sanda and the Hamaguchi friends, and came to get the heroin (what for!?!?) She blames Sanda for the death of the four Medaka members. There is a lot of talk about justice and so on. Izumi talks about what each dead Medaka group member taught her (that you should protect what you care for (old man), the courage to protect what is important to you (computer guy), that it is cool to protect things (instead of fighting which is all Hideki could do), and that there are things that you should fight for with your life (Kenji).) Sanda says he is doing this for the sake of the country (explain this please!?) And Izumi starts to scream and I can't figure out any of what she says in that high pitched voice. But then they both start shooting.

None of them seem to have hit any people though. Perhaps that was intentional (or, more likely, schoolgirls don't generally have heavy arms training.) Sakuma asks Sanda to let things end now, and he calls off Kuroki. Sakuma and Izumi leave their guns behind and walk out. All sorts of police show up and completely ignore Sakuma and Izumi, rushing instead past them and arresting everyone. Kuroki is not taken since he says that he is police (and perhaps set this up?) but is stabbed by one of the Hamaguchi, accused of betraying the Hamaguchi boss. Mayumi comes to see Sanda, who did not run. He says that she is late, and she says that she should have come sooner. Sanda apologizes and it looks like the two make up for some sort of family rift in the short time before Sanda kills himself.

Izumi asks Sakuma what he will do, and flashes back to when he said that people who have been in the Yakuza can not go back to a normal life. Izumi asks him if he will come back to the normal life with her. Later, when talking to Mayumi, Izumi says that the Medaka group is being dissolved, but hasn't quite decided what to do. Izumi asks if Mayumi will live with her. At a later meeting with Sakuma, he says that he is going to go far from Tokyo and try to start over. He promises Izumi that they will meet again if he comes back to Tokyo.

After that four months have passed. Izumi returned to the regular world, and back to school. She hasn't heard from Sakuma though, and wonders what he is doing. She is also living with Mayumi I think - I can't really tell because she doesn't look the same to me, but it could be. She got a phone call from Sakuma and asked to meet with Izumi. He is wandering around Asakusa and people are happy to see him, but he sees a fight between two people, and it looks like he interferes. Izumi gets a call from the police who say that Sakuma was killed when he got involved in a fight between the Yakuza. His business card says that he is working at some sort of housing company, and there was also a letter for Izumi. He tells her about how he is trying hard to live a straight life (but having trouble as the newest guy at his office.) (Oh, that was Mayumi.)

Izumi visits Asakusa and remembers her time with the Medaka group. She sees all the dead members who encourage her to keep on living. Look, it is a happy show now! So she is going to give it her best.

The end.

A few comments

Ok, first off, I completely thought for the first three episodes that they were looking for a heroine, not drugs. That really threw me off, and in retrospect is a hilariously stupid mistake. I'm not really putting this on my list of great Japanese dramas, but it was fun anyway, and fairly easy to understand. As with most dramas, it has its fair share of speeches that change everyone's minds, but isn't unbearable because of it. It is very strange though because it is a somewhat dark and gritty show, with such a completely unbelievable premise. I just don't believe that the Medaka group would have any interest in making a high school girl their chief. I also don't think that she would be able to command the loyalty that she does after only two months. But if you look past that, it isn't really all that bad.

I can't really complain too much because my number one favorite all time Japanese drama is the version of GTO with Sorimachi. That has got plenty of speeches in there that change things around.


Provide your email address when commenting and Gravatar will provide general portable avatars, and if you haven't signed up with them, a cute procedural avatar with their implementation of Shamus Young's Wavatars.

Comments have now been turned off for this post