Crows Zero II (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 133 minutes approx.
Having finally conquered Suzuran All-Boys High School, Genji Takiya (Shun Oguri) is thrown headlong into his first test of leadership when he inadvertently breaks a truce between Suzuran and the rival Hosen School. Former Suzuran student Sho Kawanishi (Shinnosuke Abe) is released from a juvenile detention centre following a two year stint for the murder of a Hosen student during a battle. Ambushed by Hosen students seeking revenge, Sho flees to Suzuran for safety where Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada) tries to defuse the situation. Unfortunately Genji shows up and shoots before asking questions, angering the Hosen guys who declare war on Suzuran.
Picking up almost directly after the first Crows Zero film, this 2009 sequel – once again directed by the relentless movie making machine that is Takashi Miike – reunites us with the majority of the scrap happy students of Suzuran High in their toughest battle yet. Only this time, the fights aren’t in house as before, but with an equally violent school known as the Army Of Killers. With such a fearsome reputation and accompanying epithet you’d think it would be wise to stay out of Hosen’s way – but this IS the School Of Crows we’re talking about here. There may still be various gangs and cliques operating in Suzuran but now Genji has to pull everyone together to protect the honour (as such) of the school.
Fans of the first film will be pleased to know that the bone crunching punch ups are once again on display in abundance in this sequel, including a twenty plus minute battle royale which takes place literally all over the Hosen School building to conclude the film. However, the esoteric silliness and irreverent humour of its predecessor is noticeably absent – save for an awkward date scene featuring the woman scared scarface thug Takashi Makise (Tsutomu Takahashi) – supplanted instead for more serious and sobering tale of the value of life and the meaning of honour. Apparently, even hardened thugs have an idea of the concept of respect even if it is a somewhat askew to outsiders such as ourselves.
Aside from the lack of humour, there is an air of this sequel being pretty much a rehash of the first film since the central premise remains school thugs beating the holy hell out of each other. Most of the same distractions and side stories resurface here – including popstrel Meisa Kuroki as Ruka, whose role is even less effective than before; she gets to promote her latest single in another musical interlude at the club and briefly tries to console a crestfallen Genji before vanishing for good. However, Miike manages to make this familiarity a moot point by delivering such hard hitting and exhilarating, crimson soaked fight scenes.
In a concurrent subplot, Sho finds himself struggling to fit back into society since being ostracised for breaking the code of using a weapon during a fight. A somewhat lateral move sees Sho siding with a Yakuza gang who order Sho to kill Genji’s Yakuza boss father Hideo (Goro Kishitani). Wannabe Yakuza and Genji’s mentor from the first film Ken Katagiri (Kyōsuke Yabe) returns in a reduced role, having now gone legit and tries to steer Sho onto a more honest path – but will Sho listen?
This thread feels a little forced and almost incongruous to the rest of the film since it doesn’t result in a crossover to the main plot. Presumably it is meant to parallel the lack of faith in Genji’s leadership at Suzuran while Sho’s new Yakuza boss is also under threat of a coup by his younger henchmen. It is this more solemn tone which may find some viewers waiting impatiently for the action to kick off again, but Miike is keen to remind us that these delinquents are still human.
In typical Miike subversive fashion, the Hosen students are decked out in white (well light grey) matching uniforms with the majority of the underlings all skinheads, while the “heroes”, for wanting a better term, of Suzuran are black clad Yankees with all kinds of wild hairstyles. At least it makes it easier for distinguishing which side is which during the multi-man battles.
Standing out on Team Hosen are leader Taiga (Nobuaki Kaneko) and long haired taciturn Ryo (Gou Ayano), who hides under an umbrella and looks ineffective, but is in fact a vicious wrecking machine. Needless to say very few of the cast are rarely seen onscreen without their faces covered in cuts, bruises and bandages but this does little to dampen their enthusiasm when it comes to kicking some butt.
By playing it straight Miike has delivered a fairly accessible film (for Mike at least) with this sequel, arguably more so than its predecessor, while still possessing the same raw energy and punk rock attitude. Crows Zero II is probably best watched in close succession to the first film to get the most of it but it is unlikely that returning viewers will be any less entertained by this solid follow up outing.
Rating – ***
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