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`Tokyo Pop' splits allegiance between East and West

There are American movies, and there are Japanese movies. And then there's ``Tokyo Pop,'' a new picture that falls between those categories. It's a modest film, and it has a few raunchy moments that give it an ``R'' rating. But it's friendly and likable most of the way, and it has a catchy rhythm all its own. The main character is Wendy Reed, a New York rock-and-roll singer whose career is going nowhere. Tired of living on the fringe of the music world, she's tantalized by a post card from a friend who went to Japan recently. Soon she's headed for Tokyo, where - she's sure of it - success awaits her.

In no time at all, she learns that Tokyo can be as hard as Manhattan for a musician with no money, no big-time contacts, and - let's face it - more enthusiasm than talent. Instead of wowing the Japanese on the concert circuit, Wendy finds herself working in a saloon, sipping drinks and singing ``Home on the Range'' to groggy customers.

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The story takes a big turn when Wendy meets Hiro Yamaguchi, a Japanese rocker who's not much more successful than she is. They don't get along at first, partly because his English is poor and her Japanese is worse. But the members of Hiro's band are sure that all they need is a gimmick that'll get them noticed. What better gimmick than a foreigner, or gaijin, from the West? And there's no better gaijin available than Wendy Reed, whose Western features (and how about that bleached-white hair?) would stand out in any Tokyo crowd.

As you can tell by now, nobody in this movie has exactly pure motives, especially at the beginning, when Wendy and Hiro are using each other in their haphazard search for success. But they're nice kids at heart, and they come to like each other a lot. They even get romantically involved, and eventually they do reach their big goal, becoming top stars on the Japanese rock scene.

But surprises are still waiting for them, since success - especially in fickle Tokyo - is less than it's cracked up to be. Then too, Wendy is a gaijin. Tokyo isn't her home, and even love for Hiro can't make her forget she's American at heart.

``Tokyo Pop'' gets a lot of its charm from Carrie Hamilton, its American star. She is Carol Burnett's daughter in real life, and she combines her mother's energy with her own offbeat style. She's not a glamorous actress, which is refreshing in itself, but she's a very attractive newcomer. Ditto for costar Yutaka Tadokoro, although the filmmakers let him overdo his crinkly smile at times, straining to supercharge the movie with cuteness.

The picture was directed by Fran Rubel Kazui, a New Yorker who's married to a Japanese - Kaz Kazui, who produced the film - and has worked in both the American and Japanese film industries. She gives the picture a great deal of authentic Tokyo atmosphere while never losing track of its American roots.

``Tokyo Pop'' isn't always in good taste, especially when a misunderstanding brings the main characters to what Tokyo calls a ``love hotel,'' with pornographic videos playing on the TV set. But it's a picture you can't help liking - most of the time, at least - and its performances are loaded with international charm. As they said in the old days of American rock-and-roll, it's got a good beat and it's good to dance to. I'll give it an 8.

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