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.

Audition (1999): Pins and Needles

Audition (film)

Made in 1999 and directed by Takashi Miike, Audition  (Ôdishon)  was Miike’s ‘break-out’ film. Already quite prolific with his output, Miike had yet to garner world-wide recognition. Audition changed all that and Miike (pronounced Meekay) became synonymous with all that is weird and wonderful in Japan.

Miike cast Ryo Ishibashi as the lead character Shigeharu Aoyama. Ryo is something of a legend in Japan. He is, in essence, Japan’s version of Mick Jagger. He was a rock star first and foremost and as he got older he branched out into acting. More successfully than Jagger, whose random foray’s into the acting world have been, mercifully, brief.

Ishibashi Ryo
Ishibashi Ryo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film opens with the death of Shigeharu’s wife. He and his son, Shigehiko both go through a period of mourning. They soon set up a routine and life marches forward.Widower Shigeharu starts getting lonely and wonders how he can find someone to be a companion.

He is very hesitant to start searching despite his now 17 year old son urging him to find someone. He explains his situation to his friend and colleague Yasuhisa Yoshikawa who is a film producer. Yasushisa decides to help his friend by setting up a ‘fake’ film audition. This, Yasushisa  explains, is the easiest way to meet and date prospective girls.

Although Shigeharu is reluctant at first, he soon gets into the swing of it and finally finds one girl who catches his eye. She is Asami Yamazaki (played brilliantly by Eihi Shiina in what was only her second film) Although Shigeharu is quite taken with Asami and is keen to build a relationship with her, Yasuhisa and Shigeharu’s personal secretary don’t like the girl. Both people urge him to slow down in his pursuit and Yasuhisa has even had the girls past investigated.

Shigeharu disregards their well meaning advice and continues pursuing Asami. But the words of caution do worry him as is evidenced by the dream he has where he introduces Asami to his dead wife. He makes up his mind to make love to Asami on a romantic weekend away and to confess his feelings for her.  Once they arrive at the hotel, Asami reveals that she was abused as a child. She also states that if Shigeharu does really love her, he can love no-one else. After sleeping together, he falls asleep. The hotel phone wakes him up, the front desk is calling to see if he will remain in the room as Asami has left.

What follows next is a knuckle biting, nerve wrecking, and cringe worthy journey. Shigeharu attempts to find Asami and when they are re-united it is not a happy event.

Audiences have for years hotly debated whether what happens after Asami and Shigeharu re-unite is a dream or not. I have my own opinion, although it took a lot of “to-and-fro-ing” to get there. The entire film is at turns sad, hopeful, uneasy, scary, uncomfortable, weird and perverse. In other words a typical Takashi Miike film.

Photo of Japanese director, Takashi Miike, at ...
Photo of Japanese director, Takashi Miike, at New York Comic Con 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If this film is not on the top 100 films to watch before you die, it should be…and it should be at least number 2.