Crows Zero (Cert 15)

1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 130 minutes approx.

Welcome to Suzuran All-Boys High School aka the School of Crows, where the main subject on the curriculum is beating the hell out of everyone in order to be rule of the school. The nearest person to claiming that position is third-year senior Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada) but he has a rival, newcomer Genji Takiya (Shun Oguri) who also just happens to be the son of a Yakuza boss. Without a proper strategy to get him to the top, Genji flounders until befriending Ken Katagiri (Kyōsuke Yabe), a member from a rival Yakuza gang to his father’s and an alumnus of Suzuran. Since Ken’s dreams of ruling the school never came to fruition, he decides to mentor Genji to his goal.

If anyone was capable of bringing Hiroshi Takahashi’s manga to life then who would be better qualified than the master of mayhem himself, Takashi Miike? Many could spin this quirky yarn of teenage thugs pounding seven shades out of each other in the name of supremacy but few could do it with such flair and irreverence. It’s perhaps not the best advert for the Japanese education system but it delivers two hours plus of rollicking fun with – whisper it quietly – a touch of humanity to it.

The film starts out with Miike in one of his “throwing in everything but the kitchen sink” moods; inside the first ten minutes we see a shooting, a riot in the school, a one versus four punch up and a destructive vehicular chase! Spread throughout the film are doses of whacky comedy, anodyne hip hop/R&B performances, awkward sexual humour, attempts at tear jerking melodrama and of course lashings off bone crunching gang fights. Something for everyone then!

The students of Suzuran High are all aimless louts for whom violence and gang warfare is a way of life. Attired in their “Yankee” fashion and alarming haircuts, academic pursuits are apparently non-existent, much like the teaching staff. To that end none of the cast is particularly likeable (or overly distinguishable from one another for that matter) although Serizawa has a sort of cheeky rebellious appeal to him.

When Genji arrives he opens his account by beating up members of a yakuza gang who mistake Genji for Serizawa. As a result Genji meets Ken who, after taking beating from the lad himself, realises Genji’s potential and becomes his mentor in al things Suzuran. The plan is to win over a huge number of followers to form a sizeable army to challenge Serizawa, with both sides receiving support from each of the various factions. For Ken, essentially the comic relief of the film, Genji is a vessel for him to live out his dream to rule Suzuran which he – and we later learn, Genji’s father – failed to do years before.

The interesting thing about the Suzuran students is that, despite being juvenile delinquents, they don’t seem to be that anti social or anarchic. Aside from a small sense of resentment towards authority there is no actual criminal or disruptive behaviour from them at all – their entire gang life raison d’etre seems to be based around just hanging around and fighting when necessary.

Girls don’t even seem to be an interest as such; the only female with any real presence is R&B club singer Ruka Aizawa (Meisa Kuroki) and she is essentially Genji’s resident damsel in distress. What we do learn from these bruisers is that they have something akin to a code of honour in that if a group leader is beaten in a fight hand his men will follow the victor, suggesting that giving – and indeed taking – an ass whooping is worthy of respect and not grounds for criminal prosecution among young Japanese males.

Friendship is also a hugely prized facet in a subplot featuring Tokio Tatsukawa (Kenta Kiritani), Serizawa’s right hand man and former junior school friend of Genji’s. He suffers from a brain aneurism and has a risky operation on the same day as the climactic battle between Serizawa and Genji. This is where the pace takes a hit as while this issue brings about a sobering air of maturity for our thuggish cast, it drags out the middle section and harms the pace.

However things pick back up with the final all out scrap between the respective armies, which is another skilfully crafted and well shot melange of flying fists and bodies clashing in the pouring rain, a predecessor, if you will, of the insane 45 minute brawl that closed Miike’s recent samurai epic 13 Assassins. The only thing that spoils it is the ill advised inclusion of Ruka singing some mawkish ballad while the boys beat the stuffing out of each other, a bizarre choice of soundtrack for an otherwise brutal fight scene.

Aside from the mid film misdemeanour which suggests Miike might be mellowing as he gets older (heaven forefend), Crows Zero sees the prolific maverick delivers his usual brand of hard hitting insanity with his tongue firmly in his cheek and his energy levels are as high as always. This may be among his more “mainstream” works but it has enough edge to stand outside of your typical mulitplex fodder -although Ichi The Killer this isn’t.

The cliffhanger ending to Crows Zero will have viewers clambering for more so it is good news that Miike made a sequel two years after this 2007 release and even better news that it hits UK shops soon, so watch this space for a review. For now, enjoy this amusing, offbeat, bone crunching tale of teenage testosterone turned up to ten.


Rating –  *** ½ 

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