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 (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- Brother (2000): LA Yakuza (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- Yakuza Go On The Record About 3/11 Relief Efforts In July Fanzine (実話時代） (japansubculture.com)
- Ichi The Killer (2001): The Way You Make Me Feel (mikesfilmtalk.com)
- Top yakuza member released on $19 mil. bail (tokyotimes.co.jp)
- Isn’t Yakuza 5 a Yakuza game? Teaches you how to hunt animals, be a model and race a taxi (incgamers.com)
- Yakuza Terminology: Updated With Weasels and Monsters (japansubculture.com)
- Film: The New Cult Canon: The horrible, hilarious violence of Ichi The Killer (avclub.com)