Runtime: 88 minutes
Director: Eric McEver
Writer: Eric McEver and Jeff Hammer
Cast: Quinn Lord, Ronak Gandhi, Christina Higa, Billy Zane, Yumiko Shaku, Ben Browder
By Harris Dang
Set in the last week of 1999, “Ike Boys” (2021) (pronounced ee-kay) tells the story of Shawn and Vik (Quinn Lord and Ronak Gandhi), two bubbly yet socially inept teenagers who share a love of Japanese culture; specifically anime and tokusatsu (special-effects stories involving suit actors). They spend their leisure time together at each other’s house, boasting about how much they know about the culture and how much they want to get out of their inescapably boring town in Oklahoma.
Things take an interesting turn when Vik’s family takes in a Japanese exchange student by the name of Miki (Christina Higa). Seeing this as an opportunity to bond over all things Japanese, Shawn invites her and Vik to watch a DVD of a long-lost anime film that was thought to have been destroyed in a fire decades ago. But as they watch the film, they all obtain superpowers.
Their outrageous discovery uncovers that they have been thrown into a plot that threatens the world and the only way for it to be stopped is that they work together. But with the looming threat of a supernatural militia and Y2K (no, really) over their heads, it is not going to be easy.
“Ike Boys” is a film that harkens back to the “boy’s adventure” stories where their cultural fascinations come to life in ways that they regret wishing for it, i.e. films like “Last Action Hero”(1993), “The Forbidden Kingdom”(2008), and “The Neverending Story”(2001). While the film does fall into traps of predictability in terms of its messages, “Ike Boys” nevertheless is more fun and more substantial thematically than one would expect.
Through most of the first act, our lead characters share their passions of Japanese culture and initially, it does not seem all that interesting to witness since they are essentially just quoting things they have seen and the storytelling does come off as trite. Thankfully, when the character of Miki enters the picture, writer/director Eric McEver explores themes that give the story some much-needed heft.
For example, as a compliment to the lead character’s fascination with Japanese culture, Miki’s decision to travel to Oklahoma is because she is fascinated with “Indian” culture. But through muddled translation, what she really meant was Native Americans. The “translation” element gives the story some social commentary on global perceptions of culture and it lends depth to the underlying thread of the film being about identity and embracing who we are.
Familiar elements in the film involving cultural appropriation are subverted to amusing and even surprising effect (like the involvements of Billy Zane as a braggard karate sensei and Yumiko Shaku as an almost too understanding matriarch) and the conflicts that our leads face makes the characterizations believably flawed and remarkably human, given the fantastical storyline. All three leads feel restricted by the weight of life in regards to fighting for their future and destiny and the three leads lend conviction to their characters in making their conflicts felt. Gandhi in particular displays effective rage while providing solid comic relief.
McEver’s characters are essentially him via proxy and he also has a vast affinity for everything Japan to the point that he lives there. And his love for it shines as he marries anime, tokusatsu and tradition into a boisterous melange that surpasses its budget constraints with charm and whimsy.
The character concepts by Sean Bricknell are brought to glorious life by special effects wizard Daisuke Sato (who has worked on numerous “Godzilla” and “Ultraman” films) while the animated segments by Huang Hsiao-Shan and Arnaud Tribout are spirited and energetic, with wonderful support from a rousing score by Rob Tunstall, who has worked on numerous videogames like “Mario”, “Star Fox” and the “Zelda” series.
“Ike Boys” is a charming, entertaining and goofy trifle that honours its inspirations with love and respect while providing a warm story about will resonate with young audiences about passion, adventure and friendship. Recommended.
“Ike Boys” had its world premiere at this year’s Fantastic Fest. Visit this link for more information.