3.0 out of 5 stars Diver down

Japan has no modern military to speak of, and they are hardly allowed to glorify their past, so when they want to make the sort of macho/romance found in films like Top Gun, then they have to go to rescue workers. Based on a manga by Satou Shuuhou, “Umizaru” (which translates as “Sea Monkeys”, which explains why they didn’t bother to translate the title for the US release) revolves around the Japanese Coast Guard’s elite team of rescue divers, a dangerous and thankless job that less than 1% of applicants ultimately qualify for.

Fourteen young bravos attempt to challenge the rigorous 50-day training period necessary to join the rescue divers. Each one is assigned a “buddy”, who are responsible for each other’s lives during the dangerous training. The standard cast of characters is assembled for the film. Daisuke Senzaki is the hero, sensitive and insecure but with great will and ambition. His buddy, Hajime Kudo, is good-natured but woefully unqualified for the team, and is a liability to Senzaki. Yuji Mishima (whose name could be a nod to macho novelist Yukio Mishima) is the uncompromising and cold realist, who is not above abandoning his buddy to death if he feels it is the necessary choice. To mold these new recruits, a tough and haunted veteran Sergeant Minamoto overseas their training. Kanna Izawa is the requisite love interest, a cute and spirited lass who gives our hero the courage he needs.

“Umizaru” is not a bad film, but neither is it a good one. It is pure by-the-numbers summer action/blockbuster/romance. There is not a single surprise to be had in the story, and everything plays out exactly how you expect it too. But for a standard genre-piece, it is handled well. The director has studied his Hollywood, and knows how to aim his camera. The cast does and able job, being sensitive yet strong, wringing out tears just when the soundtrack, “Open Arms” by Journey, hits its crescendo.


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