Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro とんかつDJアゲ太郎 (2020) Director: Ken Ninomiya [New York Asian Film Festival 2021]

Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro   Tonkatsu DJ Age-Taro Film Poster

とんかつDJアゲ太郎 Tonkatsu DJ Age-Taro

Release Date: October 30th, 2020

Duration: 100 mins.

Director: Ken Ninomiya

Writer: Ken Ninomiya (Script), Iipyao, Yujiro Koyama (Original Manga)

Starring: Takumi Kitamura, Maika Yamamoto, Kentaro Ito, Yusuke Iseya, Brother Tom, Reiko Kataoka, Natsumi Ikema, Kou Maehara, Kodai Asaka,

Website IMDB

In Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro, Shibuya’s club land gets a sweet-hearted remix made via juggling an epicurean adventure in Japanese cuisine with musical antics. Its origins lie in a popular gag manga by Yujiro Koyama and Iipyao which originates from around 2014 with a TV animation released in 2016 but newbies need not worry as this fun family-friendly film is a standard-issue coming-of-age story that anyone can get into.

Shibuya is the fashion district of Tokyo but in the side streets and alleys are a myriad of restaurants, shops, and inns that sustain the area. There are also clubs that all the hip young things head out to. Nice guy Agetaro Katsumata’s (Takumi Kitamura) family has run a tonkatsu (pork cutlet) restaurant in Shibuya for three generations and if tradition holds, Agetaro will inherit the restaurant. Right now, however, he is relegated to chopping up cabbages and delivering food orders because his father (Brother Tom) senses that Agetaro isn’t committed enough to the art on tonkatsu. On one delivery, Agetaro enters a nightclub where he becomes enraptured by the atmosphere provided by the DJ and the dancefloor – it also helps that Sonoko (Maika Yamamoto), the cute girl he is crushing on, likes to boogie down. Thus, Agetaro makes the decision to become Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro as he tries to cook up a storm in both the restaurant and the dance floor by mixing his skills together.

What ensues is a warm-hearted and exuberant look at how one normal guy tries to break into the music biz but comes to appreciate his humble origin. Set entirely in Shibuya, it catches the reality of the area as a place to live in so we get a sense of community. It also pumps up the gloss with scenes that utilise the neon and light shows of clubs and night-time street locations like the Shibuya scramble. The colours are so vibrant that audiences will probably feel this is close to a cartoon which is perfect for the atmosphere where being pop is the sensibility to aim for. As such, internet memes where Agetaro and his pals dress as tonkatsu and real-life talents like Fuwa-chan are segued into easily for funny asides that chart Agetaro’s rise to stardom as the film nimbly hops through scenes and finds ways to tie food, family, friends, and music together.

TONKATSU DJ AGETARO STILL 4Fuwa

While the idea that a 1:1 transfer of skills from cooking to DJing and vice versa is laughable the film sells it by way of all the quirky characters in Agetaro’s life and through some Karate Kid-style montages where we see how his nimble fingers that are good with the knives are adept at controlling the wheels of steel. Techniques involved in DJing are mostly side-lined in favour of inspiration coming from the characters in Agetaro’s community who all offer nuggets of advice. They are definitely the highlight as Agetaro is surrounded by the sort of people that make a feel-good film fizz.

First and foremost are his family who, instead of being put in the position of antagonists, show genuine concern for their relative and try to help him in his goal. Next is a team of loveable nerds who, like him, are good of heart but dense of head and all the sons of local business owners. Then there’s DJ Oily (an absolutely funny Yusuke Iseya) who is oily by name, oily by nature. This slickster of a trickster is the reason for Agetaro’s dream but through his story we see that life as a DJ is precarious and he is homeless. However, he is able to slip out of a tough financial spot by convincing Agetaro that he can be a mentor and uses that as a ticket to get a free place to crash. As nefarious as that sounds, in the positive spirit of the film, he reaches beyond his selfish nature to pull Agetaro up in the belief that the kid has talent. Indeed, if DJing can be tough, community involvement offers support which is a positive message of inclusion. Every actor offers a warm-hearted portrayal of their characters and audiences also root for Agetaro on his journey as the worlds of clubbing and tonkatsu come together.

TONKATSU DJ AGETARO STILL 6Sonoko

Last but not least comes the music. Turn the volume up for this one as its easy-going tale of chasing dreams and balancing responsibilities is soundtracked by some toe tapping classics that might make you jump out of your seat and also a lot of crowd pleasers. I was expecting some digging in the crates for hardcore beats but this seems designed for a more general audience so you can imagine a 40-something woman bouncing in her seat more than those who are currently frequenting clubland, speaking of which, an actual club was used at a time when it was celebrating its anniversary.

Here’re the tracks for Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro, real crowd pleasers:

Here’s a taste of more niche hardcore clubbing I was expecting to get

Overall, this is a fun film that succeeds as a manga adaptation as it provides undemanding fun. There’s a layer of gaggery surrounding puns that native speakers will get but the rest is broad comedy with colourful and loveable characters having fun while a nice guy learns about his place in the world.

Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro plays as part of the New York Asian Film Festival 2021.

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