Saturday, December 22, 2007

Recent Oreskaband Article

Lost in Translation meets High School Musical
Canadian director Chris Grismer has teamed up with High School Musical producers to gamble that an all-teenage-girl ska band from Japan will be the next big thing

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail

December 19, 2007 at 3:20 AM EST

Most culture seekers have a recurring thing with Japan. Kitsch iconography, street fashion, even teen-tinged pop can turn fascinating, sometimes compulsory after being reimagined by the Japanese.

So leave it to Hollywood producers, with the help of a Canadian director, to tap into that perennial Japanophilia. No less than the producers of the wildly popular High School Musical are behind a plan to turn Oreskaband, an all-girl teenage ska band (of all things) from the southern industrial city of Sakai, Japan. (of all places) into the next big crossover hit on this side of the Pacific.

Already getting noticed on various Japan-culture blogs and websites, Oreskaband couldn't seem further removed from the faux Romeo and Juliet sugar high of Disney's successful High School Musical and its seemingly endless sequels and offshoots. Producers Barry Rosenbush and Bill Borden aren't entirely moving away from the winning formula. After all, there's still the upcoming High School Musical 3 and another film along similar lines, American Mall, due out next year.

But they are trying something different with the feature-film vehicle for Oreskaband titled Lock and Roll Forever, currently in production and scheduled for next summer.

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The movie Lock and Roll Forever is being built around Oreskaband, a real ska band from Sakei, Japan, made up of six girls who met in junior high. (Sony Music Associated Records Inc.)

The six-piece band is a real, working group of energetic musicians still in their teens, including a guitarist, bassist and drummer, and a horn section. The girls met in junior high and already have a sizable following in Japan. They play feel-good ska and, decked out in shiny ties and touches of black and white checkerboard, they're cute (like real girls, though, rather than High School Musical Barbies).

But the band's name, literally “I am ska band,” uses the informal ore, an idiom that a schoolboy would use, not a group of girls. It hints at subtle irreverence, the antithesis of the wide-eyed, sexed-up girlishness of Japanese anime characters or the hyper-exaggerated Little Bo Peep look in Japanese street fashion. But unlike Avril Lavigne and her neckties and skater pose, there's little sexual coyness with Oreskaband.

Rosenbush calls the film A Hard Day's Night meets Lost in Translation. The screenwriter for the High School Musical films, Peter Barsocchini, is also connected with Lock and Roll. But to give it a different feel and ratchet up the hip quotient with anime-style animation scenes and long music segments, the producers have chosen Chris Grismer to direct. The Toronto-based director is known in part for his music videos for Broken Social Scene, Arcade Fire and others.

“I didn't have a template,” Grismer says. “They kind of let me go nuts. I got to create all sorts of weird animated sequences and big rock 'n' roll musical numbers [with] real punk rockers. It was a lot of fun.”

As Rosenbush describes it, the story revolves around “six Japanese high-school girls with a big rock 'n' roll dream, whose paths cross with an unscrupulous promoter played by Lucas Grabeel, one of the stars of High School Musical. He says, in an offhand remark when he sees them, ‘Girls, if you ever come to California, I'll make you rock 'n' roll stars.'”

The girls take him at his word; they raise the money, fly to Los Angeles and show up on his Beverly Hills doorstep. “He had no intention of ever seeing them again. And now this rat bastard, unscrupulous rock 'n' roll promoter is stuck with six adorable, hard-playing, rock 'n' roll girls,” Rosenbush says.

“We're going to reach to the same audience that we reached out to [with] High School Musical,” he adds.

And do we already detect spinoffs and sequels? “From your lips to God's ears,” he says hopefully.

But the film also commits a number of Hollywood no-nos: The first portion will be in Japanese with subtitles. And in addition to the anime-style sections, it will include a number of musical scenes that don't propel the plot but simply feature music for its own sake.

And there is one troubling aspect, the title Lock and Roll. It seems to make fun of Japanese English pronunciation right from the start. But that's a quality of the movie Lost in Translation that Grismer says he has been very conscious of avoiding. “That was definitely a consideration. That was how a lot of people felt about Lost in Translation in Japan, that they were being made fun of,” he says. “With this movie, I didn't want to take these girls and do that with them, because you can easily slip into that Jerry Lewis, ‘Me so sah-wy' comedy.”

Not only would that not go over with audiences in Japan, where the film is planned for wide release, it wouldn't be accepted by the pop-culture Japanophiles elsewhere whom the producers seem to want to entice in order to make the film more than High School Musical Goes to Japan.