Film: Crows Zero
UK Release date: 9th April 2012
Director: Takashi Miike
Starring: Shun Oguri, Kyosuke Yabe, Meisa Kuroki, Takayuki Yamada, Sansei Shiomi
Running time: 130 mins
Reviewer: Adam Wing
Feuding high school gangs and stylised warfare are the order of the day in Takashi Miike’s bonkers adaptation of Takahashi Hiroshi’s best-selling manga, Crows. Crows Zero takes place before the events of the manga, setting up an origin story for each of the major players. Popular actors Oguri Shun and Yamada Takayuki make a good fist of it, with Yabe Kyousuke and Kuroki Meisa adding to an impressive ensemble of male bravado. At Suzuran High, hallways are battle zones, bloody brawls are everyday occurrences and ultimate victory is determined by who’s on top.
When Takaya Genji (Oguri Shun) transfers to Suzuran - a high school notorious for gang violence - his agenda is pretty straightforward. He plans to succeed where his yakuza father failed; he plans to rule the school with an iron fist. After stirring up a storm on his first day, Genji fights his way to the top whilst attempting to unite the warring factions. Current top dog Serizawa Tamao (Yamada Takayuki) has other ideas though, and he’ll do whatever it takes to bring Genji back down to earth with a bang. Crows Zero is the first part of two movies directed by the hardest working man in Japan, and is available in the U.K. this month courtesy of MVM Entertainment.
Crows Zero could well be Miike’s most commercial film to date, its certainly one of his most successful. Miraculous moments of traditional Miike madness are few and far between, the ‘human bowling pin’ sequence being an obvious exception, which is both random and hilarious at the same time - a common Takashi trait it has to be said. Matrix style cockfights are nowhere to be seen however, and you wont find any apocalyptic standoffs either, Crows Zero is a testosterone-fuelled riot of epic proportions that plays like a platform beat’em up.
There's plenty of action along the way, with attitude, humour and the occasional emotional hook to keep us reeling. Miike gets the tone just about right, playing the perfect symphony time and time again. There’s no denying that Crows Zero is light hearted when it needs to be, but we should also commend it for digging that little bit deeper as relationships form and comrades fall from grace. The characters look and act like they just fell out of a comic book and Miike ensures we’re well aware of the films manga roots. Melodrama is definitely an afterthought on this one, ass-kicking action is certainly not.
The second act does falter a little, with some characters making next to no impact on the final outcome. Genji's love interest, Ruka (Meisa Kuroki), is one of the films chief offenders, and second class Yakuza Ken Katagiri’s offbeat teachings – while incredibly fun – fail to provide the film with any kind of emotional sucker punch. The film also falters when it attempts to blend hard-core action beats with juvenile toilet humour – never more so than when Genji tries in vain to get Makise a girlfriend. This whole story arc feels like comedy filler, a sequence of events that runs out of steam quickly, detracting from the films many simple pleasures and prolonging an already lengthy running time.
It will be interesting to see how the film fares on these shores, with precious little time given to female cast members and pretty boy posturing getting all the glory. Miike has plenty of fun with the homoerotic nature of the story - the films premise amounts to little more than good-looking guys wooing each other with elevated parades of machismo - but he keeps it from getting too campy with regular bouts of adrenaline pumping action. Considering how many fight sequences there are, Crows Zero never gets tiresome or tedious, but much of the films success can be credited to Miike’s effortlessly direction and several strong performances from the young cast. You won’t find as much gore as you might expect from the man behind Ichi the Killer, but you will find plenty of stylish warfare and blazing fight choreography. Part 2 promises more of the same, so there’s never been a better time to check out Crows Zero.
This is a man's world and Takashi Miike is leading the charge. Crows Zero certainly won’t appeal to everybody, but it’s cocksure and action packed – sometimes that’s all you need.