2 out of 5
Directed by: Takashi Miike
A television series presented as a two-part film, Tennen shōjo Man next: Yokohama hyaku-ya hen is a sequel to Tennen shōjo Man… which I haven’t seen at this point, but given some of the background in Tom Mes’ Agitator book, it doesn’t seem like I’m ill-positioned to watch ‘next’ due to that, given that only the character names have been maintained. Actors and location have all been jumbled, and the only real carryover concept from the original, which a viewer is quick to learn early on in ‘next,’ is that lead Ayana Sakai, playing, Man Kôda, is a badass fighter. Whilst, y’know, being a cool and cute school girl at the same time. There could be some room to posit Man as one of Miike’s typical ‘outsiders,’ but I wouldn’t buy into that: she’s of the ‘I don’t give a fuck’ outsider variety; the kid at the cool table you wish you could be.
Similarly setting this apart from Miike’s oeuvre is the focus, which is almost entirely female. I agree with Mes in that Takashi’s works are not mysogynistic (something of which he’s been accused on occasion, but I think that’s due to being very selective with one’s viewing choices from his works), but I wouldn’t deny that women do often portray very specific, supportive roles in his movies, and are even sometimes absent to focus exclusively on a male point of view. Here, though, we’re always with a gaggle of high school girls, and there’s no ogling of panties or sexualization; whereas masculinity is generally challenged in a Miike movie, the camera sits back from events here, and the tone offers no opinion on some of the subject matter, which concerns popularity, sexuality, and, to a minimal extent, the inherited lineage of behaviors… which is a Miike common concept…
…But, none of this is really applied all that much, even with a valid, wacky, manga-y concept (the material’s source) for doing so: that there are vampires in town, enticing girls to be their blood suck-ees by promising beauty and a spot at their exclusive modeling club, as long as they remain virgins. Ghosts of ideas hang out just out of reach in ‘Next,’ with the girls discussing the benefits of going vampire, while others talk about putting out just for the sake of avoiding being prey, and the head vamps’ – called ‘Saint Vampires’ – rule is threatened when certain members start to seem to have actual feelings for the girls, and some of that is presented pretty entertainingly, chopped up with kung-fu kicking sequences and some good use of cheesy effects and high contrast colors, but this is mostly saved for the final half hour of the 3-ish hours. The first 2.5 isn’t necessarily a slog, but it’s very wheel-spinning; very mundane: repeated scenes of some turned girls and some normal girls at the club, snubbing each other; Saint Vampires watching their prey on video screens, sneering and drooling. Interesting quirks in the story also occur during those last 30 minutes, suggesting there was some more developed version of this not stretched out to episodic TV lengths.
Sitting atop all of this is that this high-level snipe at the pursuit style over substance was another Idol vehicle, hence the entire cast change from the previous show / series. There’s some enjoyable irony there, but not enough to elevate the material to necessary viewing.