himself able to bring life to even the most unpromising material,
Takashi Miike takes the manga Crows and crafts
a prequel story that manages to be a lot lovelier and more demented
than the basic premise suggests.
Set in an all-boys high school from Hell, Suzuran, Crows
Zero is a story of gang rivalry, ambition and ridiculous
posturing that far outstrips anything you might expect from a
story of feuding school gangs, instead creating a highly stylised,
often consciously ridiculous story where overgrown, pretty-boy
schoolboys fight what are effectively mini wars where no-one dies.
Suzuran is a graffiti-festooned school where gang violence is
the norm, and where rival factions battle it out for supremacy,
with no one ever managing to achieve total domination. Into this
cauldron of angst comes Genji Takiya (Shun Oguri), a new student
who has arrived here with the specific goal of becoming top dog.
His main rival is Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada), and before
long, both are forming their armies through conquest and persuasion,
and preparing for the final, ultimate battle to achieve their
utterly pointless goal.
There’s a lot of interesting stuff going on here –
the high school battles representing the pointlessness of wars,
the lack of understanding that all this power play nonsense is
utterly pointless in the real world (one of Genji’s helpers
is a former student turned failed yakuza, trying to relive his
past glories by helping Genji achieve what he never could) and
the strangely homoerotic world of gang culture – there is
a love interest character here, but she’s entirely disposable
and used only as an excuse for more action. The boys are much
happier with man-on-man physical action in the form of the continual
fights that occur throughout. The film has a ridiculous level
of machismo – so much that you realise it must
It’s to Miike’s credit that he is able to take this
slight story and make something that almost feels epic. You probably
won’t care which rival wins, as both are equally shallow
in their ambitions, but the film nonetheless gives the story a
scope and epicness that it really doesn’t deserve. There
are scenes that feel like padding, characters that don’t
really fit in and humour that is decidedly Japanese – but
somehow, it all adds to the whole.
Oddly, while extremely violent, the film is lacking in the brutality
that you might expect. Miike’s fight scenes have style without
being particularly stylised, and seem to accurately reflect the
ridiculously exaggerated, somewhat fraudulent world they portray
– brutal, but not too brutal; overblown and overly
macho; self-consciously too cool for school.
One of the maverick director’s more immediately commercial
films, Crows Zero is far from his best work –
but even substandard Miike is better than most people’s
best, and this certainly isn't substandard Miike. Well
worth checking out.
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IT NOW (USA)