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Directing a movie based on a manga isn't something new for Japanese
auteur Takashi Miike, who also adapted the ultra-violent Ichi the
Killer for the big screen. However, with Crows: Episode 0, gone are the
extreme violence, though it still retains some flavour normally found
in a typical action flick. Known for movies like Audition and Big Bang
Love, Juvenile A, both which were released here, this is probably one
of his more accessible films to date, even though it treads on familiar
territory with elements of the yakuza.
Crows: Episode 0 is set in an all boys Japanese high school, where instead of having educational classes and courses, what gets put on screen (I haven't read the manga obviously) happens to be an ecosystem of triad society split into different turfs according to grade levels, classes and reputation. Unification of all levels in the school is a challenge, and new boy Genji Takaya (Shun Oguri) throws down the gauntlet on the first day to take down reigning school gangster Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada), which he finds impossible given that the latter's picked up by the police.
But of course there are unwritten rules to follow in order to engage the top, and he enlists the help of a two-bit average Yakuza hoodlum Ken Katagiri (Kyosuke Yabe) to help plot his path of success. For the most parts, the story is simple to follow, as we shadow Genji in his quest to conquer the high school class by class, through sheer brute force, gaining of respect, or simply just friendship established. As his reputation grows, so does his threat towards Serizawa, which sets up the inevitable climatic showdown where the rival gangs gotta settle who's gonna rule the school. As the saying goes, one mountain cannot hide 2 tigers.
You can't help it but Korea's Volcano High comes to mind for comparison. However, this is without the effects laden stylistic fight sequences where the exponents possess superhuman powers and abilities. Here, it's the good old fisticuffs without a lot of frills, though styled to make the characters seem to have super-strength, no thanks to the sound effects of course. The art direction is beautifully peppered with plenty of graffiti art, and your eyes would just automatically wander off to read just about every word that's spray painted out there. Oozing plenty of testosterone and machismo, there are still enough tender moments to make you cringe, bearing in mind that after all, these are pretty looking boys with mean and tough looking exteriors, but sometimes still softies at heart.
It's fight club in schools where black leather is the new uniform. If you're a fan of no holds barred street fighting with camaraderie elements thrown in, sprinkled with a dash of humour (from sight gags to the toilet variety), then Crows: Episode 0 would be right up your alley.
Personally, I'm not a Miike Takashi fan, and I usually dislike these
"Furyou" (deliquent high schooler) genre films, but it was surprisingly
enjoyable film even for me.
The plot is quite typical of high school movies. Genji (Oguri Shun), a son of yakuza boss must achieve an unprecedented unification of notorious Suzuran High School (AKA: Crow's High School) in order to take over his father's position. Genji soon finds the strongest guy in the school: Serizawa (Yamada Takayuki), who was also set to conquer all other classes. Genji challenges Serizawa to a duel, but of course, being a newcomer that he is, wasn't taken seriously at first. Genji then seeks help and builds up his own army while defeating other minor 'bosses', and eventually a showdown with Serizawa in his journey to the top of Suzuran High.
The story for this film is extremely well-designed, with excellent flow from beginning to the very end. What I especially liked about this movie is that it was more than just random violence by bunch of kids trying to look badass. Although it IS action packed, the main theme of this film is school politics and friendship. Oguri Shun's character developed very well, from a clueless kid to a leader backed by many trustworthy friends.
Cinematography for this film was extremely well-done, from school to the streets, you can tell the production crew paid attention to the tiniest detail in every single scene. Action was also very well-directed for an exciting 2 hours. I thought it was even more visually pleasing than Miike's "Ryuu ga Gotoku".
Casting for this film is absolutely incredible. I recognized so many faces, many who established themselves in yakuza or delinquent roles, but the most pleasant surprise was Yamada Takayuki, who had his share of dark roles in the past, but never a violent one such as this, and possibly the first as a villain. I've never thought him as a wild type, but he was so cool as a villain and gave his character really big presence in this film. I'm still not convinced with Oguri Shun's acting or his role as a violent punk student, but he seemed to be less out of place as he was in "Hana Yori Dango" dorama series. All the other cast did what they do best, and a very high level of acting overall.
Although I haven't read the manga series, this prequel was very easy to follow. It's impossible to take away the cheesiness associated with manga-adaptation or high school violence, but it was an extremely well-directed action movie with a meaningful message.
Crows Zero is often cited as one of Miike's most commercial films.
While this is hardly true (think Koshonin or One Missed Call) it
certainly is one of Miike's slickest films gaining such international
attention to date. The film has a solid budget, minimal weirdness and
even a pretty linear and well-developed storyline. But it is still
Miike alright. screen cap of Crows Zero
Setting for the film is a notorious high school where the scum of Japan gathers to gain control over their rivals. Gangs are started and wars are fought without any of the teachers interfering. While this by itself may sound like a streak of Miike weirdness it's actually not an uncommon theme in Japanese entertainment. The film itself is based on a manga, for those who haven't read it the film could best be described as a mix of Blue Spring, Volcano High and Cromartie High.
Helping the setting is a typical Japanese J-Rock punk look and sound that gives each of the characters it's unique style. The weird dressing sense and crazy hairdos are lifted straight from a manga universe and, while a little silly, add a lot to the coolness of the gangs. Needless to say, there's a lot of posing and looking mean to be admired.
The story is pretty simple as newcomer Genji is out to prove himself to his father and is willing to take on the top chief of the school. He impresses from the start and is able to work his way slowly to the top, where he will face Tamao to gain ultimate control of the school. There are no twists and turns so you know what to expect from the movie when it comes down to storyline development. screen cap of Crows Zero
Visually the film looks splendid, but indeed a lot slicker than earlier Miike films. There is not too much room for visual silliness anymore (although there is that bowling scene), though Miike makes excellent use of the budget he most obviously received. The action scenes in particular look stunning, with perfect use of fast forward and slow motion to increase the impact of the punches. The visual timing is spot on, aided by some very solid editing work. It's reassuring to see that Miike should not be limited to working with small budgets only.
The soundtrack is a little less satisfying. Though I can live with the J-Rock sound in a film like this, the time spent on concerts and the like is a little too long. The R&B intermezzos are probably even worse and make the film a little too smooth in some scenes. A film like this could've done without them and probably would've benefited from it too.
Acting is strong all round, with Shun Oguri showing off a lot of his abilities. Supporting roles are strong too, giving the film that little extra flair. And I'm always pleased to see Kenichi Endo liven things up a bit. Most importantly, the actors succeed in keeping a lighter tone throughout the scenes without hurting the gritty feel of the film.
Crows Zero is not Miike's best film, though it will probably become one of his more popular ones. While the exterior of the film is a little slicker than usual there is still enough Miike weirdness left and some really bone crunching fights to behold. The film never slacks and even gives the viewer a nice look into the whole gang structure in between the fights, making it a little more than just another butt-kicking action flick.
Miike is near perfect in setting the atmosphere for this film, only the music can be a little too much sometimes. Apart from that, I still prefer Miike as a loose gun director, but I can hardly criticize a film like this just because of that. A fun ride, intense where it needs to be and solid in all other areas. 4.0*/5.0*
Takashi Miike is an extraordinary filmmaker, even if he works sometimes
in circumstances that other directors might find ordinary, such as all
of the genres that Miike tackles... which are, by a mild estimation,
almost all of them. Name a kind of movie, Miike's probably done it,
from family movie to samurai epic to just totally f***ed up way-past
X-rated stuff, not to mention all of the Yakuza crime movies that by
this time should be coming out of his nose from going over so often.
But with Crows: Episode Zero, he found a way to tell a Yakuza story
just a little different, by making it about the teenage kids (some of
them, anyway) of the Yakuza who enroll in an "extreme" high school
where it's basically not about learning anything but fighting and
ascending the ranks to become the head of the school's bad-ass fightin'
kids. It's the kind of movie that, if you are fourteen and watching it,
it's like a near wet-dream of awesomeness. For the rest of us, the
movie serves as lots of good fun.
And as this is Miike, even the more conventional things in the movie like the whole 'I'm-doing-this-to-out-impress-my-dad' to the 'my-girl's-been-kidnapped' thing, get twisted just a wee bit. And, thankfully, a great dose of humor is sprinkled throughout with really random moments of hilarity (my favorite was when the teen is just talking to his friends on the roof, and casually takes a gigantic ball of some kind and rolls it away at a set of other kids all lined up like bowling pins who get knocked down in silly CGI style), and little lines and things with the characters (another highlight involves a guy trying to impress two girls in a bar, with some disastrous results). But when it's not being funny, Miike is also an excellent director of young, brawny actors who have a lot of energy and talent to burn. And he casts well enough for its target audience; the movie isn't quite violent enough (i.e. Ichi the Killer level) to make it unwatchable for teen eyes, so all of the guys like Genji and Serizawa are cast for ultimate bad-assitude.
Indeed there are some scenes and moments that come close to being vintage Miike for this kind of tough and gritty action movie. There's a fight scene midway through, for example, that is done with no frills and with total excitement as a guy is fighting against a large group of people, and as it starts to rain and he looks down and out he gets back up and, staggeringly, knocks out almost all of them left. It's visceral things like that that work, but it's also how Miike, taking of course from a comic-book (if it weren't a comic-book one would swear a brilliant and ornery teen had written it), takes material that has originality and pumps it up to the level of an crazy sort of epic. Why this school exists and the parents don't mind sending them away to get the crap kicked out of them in a caste system is beyond me, but why carp? We believe it because Miike does, and gets us into the power struggle and the ascension of Genji, even if it means he might go crazy or if another teen, Tokio, possibly may die from a brain aneurysm.
Then again, the movie also has some problems to it as well. The whole element of the girls being kidnapped could have been cut-out, or at least given with a little more development with the female characters before they're plucked away as a kind of plot convenience (if not contrivance) just so there's something else on the plate of 's***-we-need-to-take-care-of' in the story. And the climax of the film, imbued with a real epic sensibility with Genji and Serizawa fighting in a big battle with nearly a hundred students on each side to fight, stumbles a bit as its moments of raw power and energy are awkwardly cut with images of the one guy getting operated on in the hospital - it lacks tension or focus except that surgery is going on, who cares, lets get back to the wicked action - and as well a ballad sung by a woman (we see her singing on stage too) and the fighting done in slow motion. It's almost as if Miike goes too far in his excesses in this whole sequence, and ultimately half of it is really great and the other half is just... lame.
But for any fan of the director's, or anyone looking for a kooky take on rebellious youth in Japan who are only a couple of steps removed from a Battle Royale scenario, it's a good ticket to take. There's tight acting and (mostly) hard-rocking Japanese punk tunes, and the action is often creative and engaging.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Suzuran High is not your average high school, Suzuran High is home to
the worst of the worst students in the city, were your fighting skills
are the only thing worth celebrating. Genji is the son of a Yakuza boss
and desperately wants to show his father he is just as capable as his
father and perhaps even better...But in order to be the King of
Suzuran, he must defeat Serizawa another student who is on his way to
becoming the King with a fierce army. Genji must not only fight but
work on his leadership and strategy to unite classes in order to match
Serizawa's might...Fotunatly for him, he has an ex-Suzuran graduate and
low level Yakuza for a tutor. Let the war begin!
I describe this as 'Godfather with fight scenes' and in essence thats what it is, a weaker version of the American gangster classic, but this film is more concerned with showing brutal fight scenes. If gritty brutal action scenes is your fancy, then this film will deliver in fine fashion, the fight scenes are very realistic. The actors are all good in their roles, although I feel that there are certain actors such as Meisa Kuroki who appear to be simply used as eye candy...someone who could have been used to a greater degree.
Yes, there are tons of plot holes, unexplored and deserted characters in this film, but in my honest opinion it is perhaps one of the most exciting and well done fight films of all time...and when I say Fight films, I don't mean 'Kung-Fu', I mean a 'Fight film'. There are some brilliant scenes in which the classes make that 'walk' and it genuinely does excite.
This in my opinion is the 'Godfather of Fight Films'.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
One of my favorite Japanese movie series of the 80s was Nasu Hiroyuki's
absurdly violent "Be-Bop High School" which was based on Kiyuchi
Kazuhiro's popular manga series which ran in "Weekly Young Jump" from
1983. It was outrageously violent and portrayed high school life as a
battlefield, where personal combat was a means to prove a teen's worth
Enter Miike Takashi's recent "Crows Zero" which almost plays like an updated version of "Be-Bop High School" albeit with his own unique flourishes and stylistic nuances.
Based on Takahashi Hiroshi's gritty comic series "Crows" which runs in the "Monthly Shonen Champion" magazine, the movie follows the exploits of Takiya Genji, the son of a high ranking Yakuza gang-lord, who has transferred into the notorious high school Suzuran.
Suzuran's student body has the unique distinction of being the most violent, lawless and brutal. Formal education is the least of the worries at the school as daily classes are almost non-existent and students spend most of the time either fighting with each other or allying themselves with the various factions that control the school.
The top "A" class comprises of allies of the current king of the school, Serizawa Tamao(Yamada Takeyuki) who is the so-called "Hyaku Jyu Oh" (King of the Hundred Beasts) for his ferocity and strength in fights. Despite his baby faced good looks and somewhat goofy personality, he is ruthlessly determined to keep his top position at whatever costs and beats down all challengers to his throne.
A new transfer student, Genji Takaya (Oguri Jun) has just entered the school and begins to make a name for himself, first by beating up a group of Yakuza who had a run in with Serizawa and then by beating a leading school warlord, Tamamura "Chuta" (Suzunosuke) to take over his class. One of the Yakuza thugs sent after Serizawa, Katagiri Ken (Yabe Kyosuke), himself a former dropout from Suzuran, takes Genji under his wing and offers to teach him how to become the new king of the school, an achievement that Genji hopes will eclipse his father's reputation and give him lasting fame.
Together with Chuta, they begin to unite the other warring school factions in an effort to strike at Serizawa's class. Genji's allies include the dim-witted yet fiercely loyal Makise Takashi (Takahashi Tsutomu) and the brutal and calculating Izaki Jun (Takaoka Sousuke).
Genji's ambitions bring him into conflict not only with former schoolmate Tatsukawa Tokio (Kiritani Kenta), who has become Serizawa's right hand man but also endangers the life of beautiful hip-hop singer Aizawa Ruka (Kuroki Meisa) a childhood friend, who is in love with the "bad boy".
While Fudo Shugo's lively and energized script clearly draws inspiration from Takahashi's manga, it seems to also draw heavily from other similar high school delinquent manga-turned-films like "Be-Bop High School", "Rokudenashi Blues" and "Sakigake! Otokojuku". There also seems to be elements reminiscent of Walter Hill's rock-n-roll fairy tale "Streets of Fire" (1984), particularly with regards to the romance between Genji's character and Aizawa.
Miike's direction is wickedly entertaining in its outrageousness and eye-catching style. Miike never fails to make visually interesting films and "Crows Zero" is no exception. Make no mistake, "Crows Zero" is a guy's film and it is filled with testosterone pumped action and showy machismo almost to a comical level. Yet, Miike surprisingly also inserts some genuinely nice and moving moments particularly involving the complicated relationships between the various characters.
Miike's young cast is superb and does an awesome job as bringing Takahashi's exaggerated characters to life.
Oguri Jun (GTO TV Series, Azumi, RoboCon) is mesmerizing in his role as Genji. His action scenes are terrific and he brings a devilish charm to his character. Yamada Takeyuki (Dragonhead, Maiko Haaan) is also very charming in his role as Serizawa. He is not your typical villainous thug and in fact is quite likable despite his character's actions (very similar to Russell Crowe's Ben Wade character in "3:10 To Yuma). The stunning Okinawan beauty Kuroki Meisa (Camus Nante Shiranai, Vexille) does terrific work in her small part and also gets to showoff her talents as a singer. Yabe Kyosuke (Sukiyaki Western Django, Kids Return, Dead or Alive) is another standout as the bumbling Yakuza Katagiri. Yabe brings much heart and sympathy to his character and one can't help but feel for him as he tries to live his life's dream of conquering the Suzuran vicariously through Genji.
The punk rock soundtrack is appropriately loud and infectious as is Kuroki's R&B, Hip-Hop numbers.
"Crows Zero" is not for everyone and its over-the-top story won't win any awards but for your average male movie-going demographic, it is an absolute winner which is sure to please.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I got this movie as a gift because I like Japanese movies. I wasn't expecting much, but I was completely blown away. Oguri Shun, Takayuki Yamada, and Sosuke Takaoka really deliver! It's in-your-face with violence, but the point of it is winning loyalty and friendships with people who start out as your enemies. I don't know if there are different versions of this movie, but reading some of the other reviews on here it sounds like there may be, because the start of my movie is Genji registering for school at Suzuran. It didn't really remind me all that much about Fight Club either...it's not based around a man's imagination or underground fighting, it's about gangs of boys just trying to make it through school and the changes they have to go through along the way. I definitely recommend watching it...I have seen it many times and it only keeps getting better. The sequel is just as good.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie is a teenage boys fantasy where the school has no teachers
but individual clubs or gangs. And the only goal is to become top by
fighting their way up. This has been a popular concept for a while and
there is quite a bit of comics and even movies that portray this.
Movies like "Volcano High", "Go" and "Blue Spring" comes to mind. But
this movie is strictly about fighting and building reputation and
number of gang members. The story is like a war happening in school and
the only education is to build a reputation and be notorious for being
the best fighter in Suzuran High. While having a bit of rivalry going
between to gangs. One is Serizawa's gang which starts off as a
notorious gang in Suzuran High for being close to the top gang and the
other is this new guy named Genji. And Genji's main goal is to best his
own father who is a boss in the yakuza and to do that he must become
the top fighter in Suzuran High. But instead of showing both sides of
the story this movie focuses just about only on Genji and how he builds
his reputation and gang members. And makes a group called GPS in order
to take over the school. I guess there is more meat to the story when
it comes to a character that starts from nothing than a character that
already has a big reputation and a large number of gang members. But
the thing is personally liked Serizawa more than Genji since he doesn't
try to be overly cool all the time. A bit dorky and bright while being
cool and having a code of honor. And would liked some of his back-story
as well. But that isn't the case and it only focuses on Genji's gang.
This has all the rival gang in high school elements in this movie and
can sometimes come of just plain ridiculous and senseless even if this
flick is based on a manga. In fact when it comes to the characters and
such it sticks really close to the manga although this movie is a
prequel. The fight scenes are nothing special everyone has only one
style of fighting which is brawling and that is understandable but it
doesn't have memorable fight scenes. Except maybe the final battle
where Serizawa's gang and GPS gang face off with three different things
going on. Overall if you like high school teenage rebels style of movie
with a lot of fights than this one is a sure watch. Meisa Kuroki is
also in this but doesn't add much to the story besides being the very
few female in this flick and also adding to the teenage boys fantasy of
winning the girl at the end.
If you assemble a staff like Takashi Miike, Shun Oguri, and Meisa
Kuroki, you can expect a better than average high school drama.
If the story isn't interesting, the mayhem that goes on the screen keeps things going. It's a mindless entertainment, no doubt about that, but it's designed to cater to certain crowd of people that identifies with this sort of story.
Based on a comic by Hiroshi Takahashi, Crows Zero is about Genji Takiya (Shun Oguri) who transfered to Suzuran Boy's School. The school is the lowest grade high school in the province. The students are all delinquents, but Genji is notch above the rest. Nobody has become the top leader in this high school, but maybe Genji will succeed where no one else have in the past.
The story is definitely not for everybody. But if you understand the plot, it's quite entertaining. Director Miike puts in his usual high quality behind the chaotic directing style that he has.
Just don't choose this movie as a one to watch with your girlfriend on a date.
Crows Zero is a manga adaptation about factions of students fighting
for control of a Japanese high school. Not exactly a new idea, as every
other anime and manga is about that very subject. But that's not what
made Crows so uninteresting to me, I've previously enjoyed many movies
and shows with similar plots. My issues with the movie were that I
never felt any connection to the characters, and couldn't care less
about what happened to them. Add that to the unremarkable fight scenes,
and you've got a recipe for "meh". I did appreciate the sporadic humor,
but that quickly (and unfortunately) faded away as the movie
Die-hard fans of the manga may want to check this out, but I can't recommend that anyone else go out of their way to see it. If you want to see high school students beating each other to a pulp, there are much better (and more exciting) options.
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