The Rocking Horsemen ★★★★

This movie is a pure joy manufacturing machine. I absolutely adored it. Couldn't get enough of it. Ōbayashi is a quintessentially kindhearted, eternally youthful, pop-punk cinema god, so it’s only natural that he would bring a tremendous amount of style and energy and light to a story about proto-punk surf rock music zapping the minds of wide-eyed Japanese kids in the 1960s.

Ōbayashi understands the concept of the “sequence” as well as any filmmaker who has ever done the gig. There’s always an experimental excitement to his scenes as he uses the form of his films to put us in the emotional space of the work. And he never uses these considerable powers for evil. He only wants us to be filled with wonder, to laugh, to reminisce on our own halcyon days. Ōbayashi comes bearing gifts.

And for me, when youth finds their voice through rock’n’roll on film, if it’s done with warmth and heart, it’s almost always guaranteed a place in my personal canon. I will forever champion movies like this and WE ARE THE BEST.

If it slows down a little at the end as the boys scatter across Japan for college, it’s only because Ōbayashi is more content being playful and having a laugh and remembering what it was like to be young than he is at digging up pathos. But it’s no real crime in the grand scheme of things, by that point I've had way too much fun, thought back on my own first clumsy attempts at love, and am too much a part of the musical and filmic kinetic press to be derailed.

PS: I’ve always been a bit weepy. But as I get older I cry at the strangest shit. Like, for instance, watching an old grandmother be a teenage boy rock bands’ biggest, most vocal, fan.

PPS: SPOILERS... There's some rough and uncomfortable language around homosexuality in this movie, but I have a theory about that. The priest's kid, the monk in training, is gay. But it's Japan in the 1960s and he's a priest's kid, so he's deflecting. The way he's trying to hook up all the other boys and that he's the one that says the most homophobic shit, I mean, it all just screams classic deflection and denial to me (and I don't think the presence of the porn mags negates this theory). Plus, that ending, on the back of the motor scooter, when Chikkun wraps his arms around him to hold on and he says, "like homosexuals?" There's nothing mean about the way it's said. Naive, even ignorant, yes, but not mean. There is something knowing there. Like he's trying to help his friend. But neither of them really know how to discuss it. They just know that they love one another and want the best for each other.

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