Sugihara (Yosuke Kubozuka) feels more like a misfit than most high school students, being the son of a Japanese mother (Shinobu Otake) and a North Korean father (Tsutomu Yamazaki). Changing schools does not help much, as he is simply taunted by a different group of kids. Fortunately, his father has given him boxing lessons to keep the bullies at bay. When Sugihara falls for the popular Sakurai (Kou Shibasaki) and she seems interested in him, he sees the possibility of being accepted.
Go is a 2001 coming-of-age movie, directed by Isao Yukisada, based on Kazuki Kaneshiros novel of the same title, which tells the story of a Japanese-born North Korean teenager Sugihara (Kubozuka Yosuke) and a prejudiced Japanese girl Tsubaki Sakurai (Ko Shibasaki) whom he falls for.
Isao Yukisada spins this gritty coming-of-age tale about Sugihara, a Japanese-born, third-generation Korean who struggles to find a place in a society that will not accept him. The film begins with Sugihara studying at a Korean junior high school that is dedicated to memory of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. His father is a grizzled ex-boxer who recently changed his citizenship from North to South Korea so he and his wife – Sugihara's mom – could visit Hawaii. Though his father regularly gets drunk and thrashes him, he also taught Sugihara the finer point of the sweet science. At one point in the film, Sugihara takes out an entire basketball team that was bent on taking him out. Upon graduation, Sugihara enters a normal Japanese high school where he meets and soon falls for Sakurai – a loose-sock copper-haired damsel who is attracted to Sugihara's restless spirit. As the film progresses, Sugihara struggles to throw off the stigma of his ethnicity and live a quiet, successful life.
Third-generation Korean, Sugihara, is a student at a Japanese high school after graduating from a North Korean junior high school in Japan. His father runs a back-alley shop that specializes in exchanging pachinko-earned goods for cash, which is stereotypically a “common” zainichi occupation. His father had long supported North Korea, but he obtained South Korean nationality to go sightseeing in Hawaii, which required a South Korean passport.
Sugihara’s school days are filled with fights that always result in his victory; he and his delinquent peers fill the rest of their time with all kinds of mischief. His best friend, Jong-Il is a Korean high-school student who had been his classmate in junior high. When Sugihara decided to leave Korean schools for a Japanese high school, their classroom teacher called him a traitor to their homeland. However, Jong-Il supported Sugihara by saying: “We never have had what you call homeland.”
One day, Sugihara attends the birthday party of one of his friends and meets a mysterious Japanese girl whose family name is Sakurai (she is reluctant to use her first name). He takes her out on a couple of dates and they gradually become intimate. However, tragedy strikes when Jong-Il is stabbed to death by a Japanese youth at a railway station. Jong-Il mistakenly thought that the youth was about to attack a female Korean student at the station. The boy, who is carrying a knife, attacks and kills Jong-Il. Sakurai comforts Sugihara, and that night they attempt to make love. She freezes in bed, however, when Sugihara confesses that he is Korean. She declares that she is afraid of a non-Japanese male entering her, and Sugihara leaves.
In the meantime, Sugihara’s father has been depressed by the news that his younger brother died in North Korea. In an attempt to provoke him, Sugihara blames his father, stating that the second generation of zainichi, with its sentimentality and powerlessness, has caused the zainichi much grief and difficulty. They fistfight, and the result is Sugiharas complete defeat. In the wake of the fight, Sugihara finds out that the true reason for his father’s adopting South Korean nationality was that he wanted to make his son’s life easier.
Six months later, on Christmas Eve, Sugihara is studying hard in preparation for the college entrance examinations. He is trying to fulfill the wishes of the deceased Jong-Il, who always wanted him to go to a (presumably Japanese) university. Sakurai calls him after a long period of silence between them and asks him to come to the place where they had their first date. In this last scene, they recover mutual affection and leave for some unknown place together in a light snowfall.Yosuke Kubozuka as Sugihara
Ko Shibasaki as Sakurai Tsubaki (as Ko Shibasaki)
Shinobu Otake as Michiko (mother of Sugihara)
Tsutomu Yamazaki as Hideyoshi (father of Sugihara)
Hirofumi Arai as Won-su
Mutsu Murata as Kato
Takato Hosoyamada as Jeong-il
Min Kim as Naomi
Gye-nam Myeong as Staff member of South Korean embassy
Taro Yamamoto as Tawake
Ren Osugi as Taxi driver
Sansei Shiomi as Mr. Kim
Masato Hagiwara as Policeman
Anri Ban as Kaori
Asami Mizukawa as Korean in the tube station
The film is based on a novel by Kazuki Kaneshiro, a zainichi Korean himself, also entitled Go. It was published in 2000 by Kodansha, and received a Naoki Prize.
The film received a simultaneous theatrical release in Japan and South Korea, and was the first joint Japanese and South Korean production. It was also the first major film to challenge existing preconceptions about Japanese identity within the commercial format of a young adult romance film. The film explores not just the issue of prejudice, reflected in Sakurais unconscious racism, but that of racial identity in general.
The film has received some criticism for its focus on racism that its protagonist experiences, in comparison to the deeply ingrained and institutionalized racism, ensuring that even after several generations of residence, many Koreans are still refused Japanese passports.
Other Japanese films have also tackled the issue of prejudice in Japan, usually treating Koreans as the victims, such as Nagisa Oshimas Death by Hanging and Kohei Oguris For Kayoko. All Under the Moon is another film with a zainichi Korean director, and treats the zainichi Korean ethnicity as a condition.
In playing the role of Sugihara, actor Kubozuka Yosuke comments on his experience, “In GO, Korean Japanese Sugihara’s identity was born because of the system of the society. Since I was born in Japan and I have been taking it for granted, I didn’t think about it.”
Before playing Sugihara in the film, he was surrounded by an environment where everyone is Japanese and everyone takes that for granted. But after knowing the other in his own society, he internalized the nationalistic sentiments of the Japanese. Having discovered himself as nationalist, Kubozuka tried to rebel against what he sees as “uncool Japan” that doesn’t have its own pride at all. In 2002, he produced a movie named Kyouki no Sakura or Madness in Bloom, in which he acted a role of young nationalistic neo-Nazi in Tokyo.
The central theme of the film is the integration problems of Zainichi Koreans and also the problematic struggle between the transfer of the North Korean citizenship (Chousen-jin) to the South Korean citizenship (Kankoku-jin) that allows for a person to be more free in Japanese society. Go (Yosuke Kubozuka) is also faced with the dilemma of falling in love with a Japanese girl whose family values are placed against the favor of Korean-blooded citizens, and faces the realized boundaries between the seemingly non-existent yet realistically affective ideology of "citizenship" in the Japanese society/culture. Thematically the Director Yukisada Isao and writer Kazuki Kaneshiro plays with the traditional Japanese racism that Koreans face. Yukisada Isao often allows elements such as "love" and "friendship" to take a romantic protagonistic role to ring out over the given antagonistic backdrop set up in this particular film.
It is also a social commentary on its contradictory backwardness of Japan as a society that plays a role in such a forth-playing manner at the world stage. Go is also mentally attached to traditional Japanese values and listens to "Rakugo", which is an ancient form of Japanese standup comedy. Since he is a North Korean boy that was born and raised in Japan, he faces problems of self-identity and belongingness to a certain culture where the culture that nourished him is the exact element that counteracts to work against him. These complicated issues are then drowned out by Yukisadas portrayal of the importance of the short sighted nature of true friendship and true love that in the end renders the concept of nationality as relatively irrelevant to ones own lifestyle and beliefs in a given perspective.
All About Lily Chou-Chou (2001). Shinobu Otake appears in Go and Poppoya. Ko Shibasaki and Tsutomu Yamazaki appear in Go and Crying Out Love in the Center of the World. Ko Shibasaki appears in Go and House of Himiko. Death by Hanging (1968).
The film has received numerous awards.2001 – Hochi Film Awards – Best Film
2001 – Nikkan Sports Film Awards – Best Director; Best New Talent
2002 – Japanese Academy Prize – Best Cinematography; Best Director; Best Editing; Best Lighting; Best Screenplay
2002 – Blue Ribbon Awards – Best Director
2002 – Kinema Junpo – Best Director; Best Film; Best Screenplay
2002 – Mainichi Film Concours – Best Screenplay; Sponichi Grand Prize New Talent Award (Yosuke Kubozuka and Ko Shibasaki)
2002 – International Film Festival of Marrakech – Best Actor; Golden Star (Isao Yukisada)
2002 – Palm Springs International Film Festival – FIPRESCI Prize (Isao Yukisada)
2002 – Yokohama Film Festival – Best Director; Best Film; Best Screenplay