When the fourteen new recruits at the Japanese Coast Guard diving school meet their drill sergeant Minamoto for the first time, he has but one message for them. He's not there to teach them to dive. He's there to figure out who's not worthy to join the team.
One of the new recruits is Senzaki, a passionate man and an experienced diver, an obvious candidate for graduating at the top of his class, however he's facing fierce competition from the equally experienced Mishima, who thinks little of his fellow Sea Monkeys, the affectionate nickname given to the divers. When time comes to pair the recruits in a buddy system, Senzaki is dealt an inferior hand, and ends up with the weakest member of the team, Kudo.
Meanwhile a young woman Kanna enters the scene. She recently got the chance to get her first articles published in a fashion magazine, but she's been forced to leave Tokyo because her mother has suddenly taken ill. Kanna tries to juggle both her article and taking care of her mother, but that proves more difficult than she thought, and she's struggling to keep her life together.
Despite the rigorous training program the divers do get the occasional night off. Much drinking and ballyhoo ensues, as the recruits are unleashed on the local town, where the girls relish the chance to sink their teeth into some testosterone charged young men. During one such drinking spree Senzaki runs into a girl, who is so drunk she can hardly stand. That turns out to be Kanna who, following her girlfriend's advise, is out on the town to get herself a diver, and since Senzaki is right there in front of her, she grabs him and drags him to a nearby hotel room, where she... passes out.
When they wake up the next morning Kanna thinks she's slept with Senzaki, and though nothing actually happened he's not about to correct her wrong assumptions. Instead he storms out of the door, leaving her to think she's done the dumbest thing ever. "I just screwed a Sea Monkey", she says with a sigh.
Meanwhile the unrelenting training continues. Slowly a great bond develops between the divers, so much so that Kudo, who continues to lag behind, gets a helping hand from his team mates. They carry him through the program, and even help him get a girl, though the competitive Mishima does not approve.
During the coming weeks, the men will be pushed to the very limits of their abilities. As they embark on the final stage of their training, they will discover that the sea holds a few unexpected surprises. The kind you just can't train for. And when that glorious day of graduation comes, some of the divers will get their diploma lying in a coffin.
Watching every motion in my foolish lover's game.
On this endless ocean finally lovers know no shame.
Take my breath awaaaaay.
Ah yes. Takes you back doesn't it? That song, that motorcycle, and Tom Cruise looking like he owned the world. Or at least like he had just bedded it.
The feisty young men of "Sea Monkey" have much in common with their American counterparts from that quintessential 80's film, "Top Gun". They all train to be the best of the best, they're all putting their life on the line for God and country, and they all seem to be incapable of performing a heroic act, without a cool pop-song playing in the background.
While "Sea Monkey" could safely be called "Top Gun under water" on the surface (no pun intended), a deeper look into the film will reveal that it's much more detailed, and more grown-up. It's less smug and it's capable of handling subtle drama in a way "Top Gun" could never hope to do. It knows when to quit, and it has some comfortable bursts of humor along the way, to soften up the seriousness of the drama. Even the characters are a little harder to pin a stereotype on than usual. Of course all the archetypes are present and accounted for, but perhaps the likeable banter between them is the reason it all seem a little less obvious.
Visually the film has a gorgeous music video look. As the divers train in near impossible situations, with sweat dripping down from their tired faces, the film documents the events in glorious montage sequences, to the sound of a hard pumped score, and with plenty of slow-motion shots. This produces a undeniably heroic feeling that surges through the entire film, and though we're basically only dealing with a bunch of divers, you'll walk away from "Sea Monkey" thinking that if the going gets tough, these are the guys who'll save the world. Flippers and snorkel included.
The film makes no apologies for the cheesy moments along the way. It's not above pumping up the volume on a cheesy pop song when two of the characters kiss, and it even has the audacity to play with a "Captain, My Captain" scene (the filmmakers behind "Dead Poets Society" really should have copyrighted that one), when the training officers' actions are called into question.
The only point of critique that could be raised against this otherwise enjoyable fare, is that the film doesn't feel all that Japanese. It's very international in style and themes, and thus very accessible to newcomers to Asian Cinema. That may disappoint those who are looking for insights into this particular corner of the Japanese society, but at the risk of offending the filmmakers, I have to say that for all intents and purposes, this might as well be an American film.
If "Sea Monkey" caught your eye because of the diving, you'll find it to be a much better experience than the ludicrous "Men of Honor", and more tight than the similarly themed "Blue" (from South Korea).
It's easy to get into trouble with this kind of heroic tale, but "Sea Monkey" has a good mix of serious drama, and fun & games. Although there are some cheesy moment here and there, it walks a different path from its predecessors. "You can be my wingman any time", says Val Kilmer. "Bullshit! You can be mine", Tom Cruise retorts. For better or worse, you won't find Senzaki and Mishima getting into an exchange like that in this film.