Sukeban Deka: The Movie (Japan, 1987)

When considering Japanese film, the 1980s often get overlooked. Kurosawa did Ran (1985), and there’s Imamura Shohei’s Black Rain (1989), but what else is there to compare with the greats of the other decades? What cinematic achievement is there to match Yasujiro Ozu’s 1950s “home dramas,” or Hideo Gosha’s 1960s samurai epics, or indeed even Kinji Fukasaku’s 1970s nihilistic yakuza pictures? If only there was something with highly trained assassin schoolgirls with steel yo-yos, who had bad hair and weren’t afraid of getting whipped by evil school principals intent on taking over the government with an army of brain-washed juvenile delinquents. Oh, but there is. Enter Sukeban Deka: The Movie, exit good taste, believability, and the laws of physics. Take that, Ozu!

Based on a manga and hit TV show, Sukeban Deka: The Movie (“Female Juvenile Officer”) finds our hero Yoko (Yoko Minamino) trying to live a normal high school life now that she’s retired from being a Sukeban Deka (apparently there was a new yo-yo wielding girl in each season of the show— Sukeban Deka: The Movie came between seasons two and three and served as a sort of bridge between them, making Yoko Deka number two). Her newfound life is thrown into chaos when she picks up a satchel dropped by a student, Kazuo (Shinobu Sakagami), who’s being chased by some toughs. Yoko follows them onto a bus and pretty soon she’s whipping the bad guys in the face with a newly purchased yo-yo and then—inexplicably!—the bus crashes into a back hoe in slow motion. Before long she’s caught up in a plot to overthrow the government from within using zombified juvenile delinquents. What, that old scenario?

Yoko’s old agency won’t help her—the heat’s too much for them, being part of the government—so she goes it vigilante style, recruiting her old team and a few new girls, including former teammate O-Kyo (Harukso Sagara), nasty with the marbles, and Yui (Yui Asaka), the new Sukeban Deka. There’s also the sister of a student at the school headquarters of the bad guy, Sankou Gakkuen, who doesn’t have any cool weapons but is cute nonetheless.

The plot is, of course, ludicrous, but you’d never pick up a DVD about assassin schoolgirls for an intricate storyline. You’d buy it because the girls are cute and they kick ass. And in that, Sukeban Deka: The Movie certainly delivers. Neither man nor machine is impervious to their schoolyard weapons. There really is nothing like seeing a girl in a sailor suit uniform take down a helicopter with a yo-yo. And when Yoko gets her extra-powerful reinforced steel yo-yo she’s going through brainless delinquents like they were out-of-style cell phones.

Sukeban Deka: The Movie absolutely refuses to take itself seriously. You can almost hear the staff sniggering off set. And that’s the way an 1980s schoolgirl assassin movie should be.