Crows Zero (2007): A Yakuza Is Born

Cover of "Crows Zero"

Adapted from Hiroshi Takahashi‘s manga Crow’s, the screenplay was written by Shôgo Mutô and directed by the iconic Takashi Miike. I have read that this is a ‘loose’ adaptation of the manga, while that may be true, the film itself is visually impressive and the plot fairly easy to follow.

The film, except for the fact it’s adapted from the manga, could be called The Birth of a Yakuza. Crows Zero is set in the fictional  Suzuran All-Boys High School. It is said to be the “hardest” school in Japan.  It is certainly the most dilapidated. When the cameras pulled back to show a panoramic view of the school, I felt like I had put in the wrong film. The school looked like it belonged on the set of a horror film.

It seems that Suzuran is a school where the students are engaged in daily battles over ‘turf’ and who rules the entire school’s ‘turf.’ Although different factions hold different levels of power, no one gang has ever ruled the whole school.

Enter Genji Takaya (Shun Oguri) a tall bean-pole of a lad whose dad is a local Yakuza boss and alumni of Suzuran High School.  He has told Genji that if he can rule the entire school, he can take over his Yakuza gang.

The main competition is Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada) who so far has the toughest gang, but they do not rule the school. There are several factions that control different year groups and different areas. There is even one faction that is made up of just one member, but he is the size of a barge and has never been defeated in a fight.

On the first day of school a local Yakuza lieutenant, Ken Katagiri ( Kyôsuke Yabe) comes on the school grounds with several men to dispense punishment to Serizawa for beating up one of his men. Genji is mistaken for Serizawa and Katagiri is told by his men that they will take care of this kid while he goes to get sodas and ice cream.

Genji proceeds to mop the floor with the Yakuza tough guys. Meanwhile the real Serizawa has been chased back to the school by the police. This has the effect of ending the Yakuza attack. Later, Katagiri catches up with Genji and realises that they were after the wrong teenager. Katagiri likes Genji and tells him that he can help Genji to rule the school.

In this fictional world, there is no time or need for school work. Instead it appears the only requirement for graduation is to show up to  school. In this setting the teen criminals have all the time they need to recruit different gangs to support them in their fight to “rule the school.”

The film is enjoyable, if not typical Takashi Miike fare. It felt like the genre hopping director wanted to try his hand at entertaining the teen demographic for a change. Everything about the film felt tailored for the younger film goer up to and including the minimal amounts of blood shed in the fight scenes (well, minimal for Takashi Miike at any rate).

The fight scenes are choreographed well and look fairly realistic, if you can overlook the fact that if the kids had really fought that hard the fights would not have lasted nearly so long. The shooting schedule for the final big battle at the end of the film must have been Miike training for that big battle in 13 Assassins . It must have taken weeks to film, but it was worth the effort because it does look great.

My only complaint was there seemed to be too much time spent watching ‘J-rock’ bands perform and letting Genji’s love interest Ruka Aizawa (Meisa Kuroki) sing a couple of R&B songs. The time spent on the music in the film was a dead give away that the film was aimed at a younger market and it slowed the film down.

It is a good film if you enjoy watching young Yakuza “wanna-be’s” beating each other bloody. It does have Miike’s stamp all over it at any rate and that alone makes it a film worth watching.

Fudoh: The New Generation (1996): Cool Kiddie Crime

Fudoh: The New Generation
Fudoh: The New Generation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Directed by iconic cult favourite Takashi Miike (AuditionIchi the Killer , 13 Assassinsand starring Shôsuke Tanihara (Sky High) and Riki Takeuchi (Riki is well known to most Yakuza film fans, he has been a regular player in most ‘straight to video’ Yakuza tales. He also played the teacher in Batoru rowaiaru II: Chinkonka aka Battle Royale II as well as co-starring in all the Dead or Alive films)

Cover of "Dead or Alive (Unrated Director...
Cover of Dead or Alive (Unrated Director’s Cut)

The ‘Readers Digest’ version of the plot is as follows:

When Riki Fudoh is a young boy, his Yakuza father kills Riki’s brother to escape death himself. It seems that Riki’s dad committed a heinous  crime against another Yakuza crime lord and rather than pay the penalty himself, blames it on his eldest son.

Riki never tells his father that he saw him kill his brother, but as he gets older he becomes the head of a juvenile gang that is comprised of his fellow high school mates.

The gang may be made up of children, but the criminal acts they participate in are very grown-up. Under Fudoh’s tutelage they are carrying out a systematic assassination of several local Yakuza bosses.

Riki Fudoh is ruthless in his pursuit of crime. At the start of the film he kills one of his teachers for failing to pay what he owes. Working as a loan shark is just one of the many ways that Riki increases his power as a kiddie Yakuza.

Riki Fudoh gets help from a giant of a boy who pretty much volunteers to join Riki’s gang. He gives the huge lad a tour of his “training” facilities where very young children train in pairs with guns. One stands and shoots the gun while the other one provides a steadying brace. It is with this wide ranging age group of children that Riki plans to take over the local crime scene and to ultimately take on his father.

Fearing for his life Riki’s dad calls in outside help.

Fudoh: The New Generation is an atypical Takashi Miike film. In film circles he is known as the director who isn’t afraid to show the ‘under-belly’ of Japan. He shows characters on film that other directors would never dream of showing.

Fudoh is no exception. Riki’s two bodyguards are female high school students. At least they both look female. One is actually a hermaphrodite whose speciality is shooting darts from her vagina. The same ‘girl’ also stands up to urinate against a fence post. Such dexterity is to be admired.

Miike is also famous for using gallons of blood in any violent scene where most directors would use a pint. In one scene one of Riki’s body guards dispatches a local crime lord who is in the back of a police car. She serves him a cup of coffee which has been laced with poison. The crime lord begins to spew blood from his mouth. So much blood that it fills the back of the car and comes out in a four foot wave when the door is open. Typical Takashi Miike.

Français : Takashi Miike au 64ème festival de ...

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