Joe Yabuki is an aimless young man who runs away from an orphanage with no money and no place to stay. He runs into a former boxing trainer, Danpei, who still has a strong passion for boxing. Danpei watches Joe fight and regains his desire to train future boxers. Joe, however, does not have any interest in boxing until he ends up in a juvenile prison where he meets Rikiishi, a former boxing prodigy. They quickly develop a rivalry and a newfound interest in boxing overcomes everybody in the prison, including Joe.
Cast & Credits
Being the movie adaptation of a legendary manga, the plot of this live action would need a 1 page discussion at least. But here's the rub! The movie does absolutely no justice to the cultural reality it was born in. Tomorrow's Joe is originally a story of social redemption that features a very self destructive antihero; it's not your average story of poor guy becomes rich and popular thanks to his fists and strength of will. It is, or I'd better say it SHOULD BE, the mirror of a period, a true social condemnation embodied by a derelict guy who can express himself only on the ring. This is where the film fails big time. The character of Joe is so scantily written one needs to be a seer to understand his motives – unless you've read all 20 volumes of the manga, in which case you'll probably be disappointed anyway by its brevity.
The direction seems to have been so preoccupied with the tiniest visual detail that it completely forgot to tell a story. The same applies to all the characters, whose arc is touched so superficially I had to appeal to my imagination to fill all the glaring voids.
Not to mention the boxing aspect itself. While the actors have done an amazing job at preparing for a difficult athletic task, the combats themselves are visually beautiful but tremendously repetitive. Since so much time is dedicated to the fight, I was hoping for more moves and tricks that never came. Once again, in their anxiety to be loyal to the manga they concentrated on the outer picture, instead of creating a movie which could stand on its own feet, for viewers who weren't yet born in the 60ies or have never heard of Yabuki Joe.
So why am I giving this film such a high overall rate?
Let's say this is my way to pay homage to the cast, mostly Tomohisa and Yusuke Iseya, and the director of photography. As you may have inferred from the premise of this review, I do not belong to the group of those who think Yamapi's just another pretty idol who can't act. On the contrary, I maintain he has what in theatre jargon is called the "physique du role", regardless of the part he plays. He does not express much with his face, he actually uses his whole body to enter the character. From Akira who flaps his arms like a weird butterfly to the über cool flying doctor, from the basketball court to the boxing ring he's always extremely believable. I could mention more roles, but it won't be necessary, I stand my ground: here, he IS Joe. If he had been given the chance, he would have created an unforgettable character.
Iseya did an amazing job too, despite the sad lack of depth the character he portrays is condemned to by the terrible script.
As for photography, it's absolutely stunning. Colours, angles, close-up shots and flashbacks are spot on. It does have a flaw, though, directly related to the abovementioned necessity to stay visually true to the manga: at times it looks as though the story took place in the 20ies, when in fact it's the 60ies and 70ies, as proved by the fact that people watch television, among other things.
The music falls into the same trap, but I'm willing to forgive this detail, since it's very beautiful and suits the atmosphere perfectly.
I may rewatch this movie in the future, just for the visual. I'm not sure I'm willing to recommend it, unless you're familiar with the characters and don't care for the plot.
Let's say that this movie has done nothing to ignite my interest for the sport, but it has confirmed my undying love for Yamashita Tomohisa – as if that ever needed validation.