New York Asian Film Festival ‣ とんかつDJアゲ太郎

The 20th Anniversary New York Asian Film Festival takes place August 6–22 with both virtual and in-person screenings. Go to nyaff.org for more details.

Tonkatsu DJ Agetaro did something that seems just about impossible… it actually made me miss going to nightclubs.

Loud, sweaty, overcrowded, expensive… in my heart I remember all of this from my going out days. But the magic of this movie is that it actually manages to evoke the way we all hoped we feel every time we’d go into the club. Just this space of connection and freedom, where the right choice of music can hit you in just the right way to make you feel like anything is possible.

Adapted from a popular manga (forming a kind of adaptation trilogy with fellow festival entries From Today It’s My Turn! And the sequel The Fable) Agetaro is a crowd pleaser of the old school, a feel good romp that might be corny if it wasn’t so charming and light on its feet. While The Prayer was my pick for favorite of the festival for its thoughtfulness and intensity, Agetaro might just take the gold in terms of sheer viewing pleasure. I had a smile from ear to ear practically the whole time.

Our titular hero is an aimless youth working at his fathers’ tonkatsu restaurant, tonkatsu being a kind of deep fried pork cutlet. Agetaro chafes against his status as a cabbage cutter, desiring to learn the secret of frying the perfect tonkatsu, though it is a goal seemingly less about actual interest and more about just having something new to do.

Making a last night delivery to a club brings him into contact with the world of DJ-ing and he is immediately sucked in, falling in love with the energy and the sense of freedom. But will he be able to make his dream come true?

I mean, come on…. what do you think…?

The movie is propped up mightily by it’s music, which is one of the reasons it feels like the movie might actually have crossover appeal: the soundtrack is filled with popular American artists and extremely familiar (and catchy) songs that do as much as the energetic direction by Ken Ninomiya to keep things moving. And it’s all anchored by an incredibly game cast led by the winning Takumi Kitamora. His good natured yet deeply geeky newfound devotion to the art of DJ-ing is pretty much nonstop delightful, and he provides a protagonist well-worth rooting for. His equally nerdy and relentlessly supportive friends gain their fair share of laughs as well.And in the archetypal role of the reluctant mentor, Yusuke Iseya finds the right balance of sage and slacker as DJ Oily.

There’s just a sense of joy here, a positive vibe that even extends to the lack of a true villain (or even a rival); there’s no enemy to overcome except Agetaro’s self-consciousness and initial inability to think of the audience. Much is made of how a DJ must find their own style and voice, which is the appeal to Agetaro, who bristles under the rigid rules that seem to dictate the making of the perfect tonkatsu. But what he fails to realize is that that style and voice is merely the method that a DJ must use to connect to the audience; because if the audience isn’t moving, then what’s the point.

Will Agetaro find this out in time for the big show that will determine his future?

Again… what do you think?

Look, no one said this wasn’t formula entertainment. It very much is; if you’re looking for unexpected twists and story beats that completely take you by surprise, you’re barking up the wrong tree. But if you want to see those beats executed in as fun and entertaining a manner as I’ve seen in quite some time, look no further.