Based on the Manga/Japanese comic book called "Crows" that runs monthly in a magazine, Takashi Miike (Audition) has scored a major box-office hit with "CROWS:Zero". Keep in mind, that this film is NOT one of his usual controversial, disturbing works but more of his commercial films. Miike has often been dubbed as one of the best directors alive (by Tarantino for one) and watching this film, one wouldn't be hard-pressed to see why. Miike mixes edgy comedic touches, pretty boys in fights and that manga-inspired atmosphere--all the more transforming high school life to seem like feudal warfare. The film is an energetic, rousing crowd-pleaser that seals the deal and has been hailed as one of the best manga adaptations to hit the screen.
Suzuran High school has a reputation as being the most notoriously chaotic, brutal schools in the nation. The students spend little or no time at all trying to get an education and spends most of their time organizing their gangs and fighting for supremacy as to who would rule the school--currently, a student named Tamao Serizawa (Yamada Takayuki) is the closest to achieving that goal, being called "Hyaku Jyu Oh" or "King of the hundred Beasts". Now, a transfer named Genji Takaya (Shun Oguri), the son of a yakuza lord has his eyes set on becoming the ruler of Suzuran to gain fame and his father‘s respect. He befriends a bumbling yakuza henchman, Takajiri Ken (Yabe Kyosuke, Dead or Alive) and begins his journey in assembling a gang--using his fists to prove himself (to Izaki and Chute), and helping Maki (leader of a 2nd year gang) to meet chicks. The final showdown is about to begin…
Takashi Miike's direction is full of forward momentum, that it never lets up on its wicked energy to immerse the viewer. The film is highly entertaining and while its main premise is very simple, Miike manages to pull out major depth in his expression of just how the power structures of the gangs work which is basically analogous to feudal warfare, that includes sought after alliances--in this regard friendships are tested, where masculinity and fighting ability are the two factors that a young man can prove one's worth. Miike is a master of visuals and movement, and this film is just so full of eye-catching, awesome style. The film is at times full of outrageousness and black comedy, but he manages to let his characters grow on the audience by inserting some needed emotions in some of the film's sequences.
The characters are quite interesting and the director even gives them somewhat of a mythic personality and machismo. Maki is a dim-witted gang leader (no doubt due to the beatings he suffered) whom Genji manages to befriend by setting him up on a date. He sweats and reaches an orgasm when he sees a chick so he could never hook up. Izaki is the calculating and brutal leader (played by Takaoka Sousoke) who Genji impresses with his sheer guts and fighting spirit. Serizawa and Genji feel like they are two sides of the same coin. They have formed allegiances to become the "top dog". The script by Fudo Shugo also introduces a mythic legend about a school kid so tough that he doesn't need alliances; called the "Rinda-Man", who is said to be on another level to brutality.
Aside from the film's characterization, much of the film's main strength would have to come from the hyper-kinetic fight sequences. Keep in mind that this is Takashi Miike and no way would he shoot a super-choreographed fight. Ok, the fights may look very much "manga-inspired" and has somewhat of that anime feel--with the sounds and impact of the blows almost comic bookish. However, the action gets more brutal and bloody, and does have a touch of realism the longer we go into the film. The fights are nicely shot, with cool macho posturing and fun butt-kicking attitude in the sequences. The film did manage to keep its direction tight and solid to keep me intrigued as to who would win in the end.
The film is fun to watch and has the character skids from the comic book surface in the second half. Granted the story isn't really all that complex, it is quite very typical of other manga books in store shelves and isn't going to win any awards. The screenplay does seem to draw influences from other manga adaptations about gang wars from "Be-Bop High School", Sakigake! Otokujuku and even Walter Hill's "Streets of Fire". Genji's love interest, Ruka Aizawa is also underdeveloped and her character seems like only a device for breath-taking beauty Meisa Kuroki to show her talent as a J-pop star. The punk rock band, GINJIROU also provides some "punk rock" entertainment that complements Kuroki's hip-hop R/B performances. There is also your typical brotherly man-love between Ken and Genji that offers up a subplot with the Yakuza. It may be cliché for films of this kind but it does succeed in displaying its emotions.
Takashi Miike's "CROWS ZERO" is a film with a plot that offers little surprises but what made this film special is its strong energy in its momentum and over-the-top entertainment value. The film's characters are quite cartoonish, but they do have a tone of seriousness about them that provides balance. These pretty boys pretty much beat each other to a pulp, but it is not to the extent of brutality that is disturbing. There are no teachers in this film and the cops barely made an appearance--this is NOT a film to be taken seriously and if you do, it would be your fault. Miike's direction and visual manipulations are slick, cool, and full of outrageous style--it almost resembles a comic book video. This is Miike on his mainstream mode but he doesn't forget to pitch in some cultural prestige which makes it special. The film is reason enough for Western fans of the Japanese medium (anime, manga, bishonen heroes, video games) to rejoice and I am pretty sure fans of the comic won't have reason to complain either. For its male target audience, it is sure to be a hit!
Rinda-Man is COOL!!
Highly Recommended! [4- Stars]
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