If ever there were a more versatile director than Takashi Miike, I have yet to discover him. Crows Zero is the latest of many glorious threads the Fates have spun in his favor, and one I shall not soon forget. Far superior to his other recent splash spaghetti Samurai film Sukiyaki Western: Django, I do hope this one receives some attention upon its US release late this month. It's not much like his better known horror or pure yazuka films, but then this has never stopped him before.
Based on the popular Crows shonen manga by Hiroshi Takahashi, the film tells the tale of two ambitious delinquents as they set out to conquer all of Suzuran, a school full of...well, you guessed it: punks and delinquents. If you've seen or read similar fare like Cromartie High School, you know the style. Lots of young toughs in their school uniforms, boasting whatever sensational hairstyles they can muster: greaser cuts, emo doos, the occasional shaved head...fuck, even ponytails like a pretty American Indian squaw. The film has more swagger delivered through its young cast than anything Ocean's Umpteen could ever strive to deliver. Shun Oguri is delightful as Genji Takiya, a local yakuza's son with something to prove to his father. Takayuki Yamada soars as the dangerous and fiery, yet somber and poverty-stricken heir apparent to the school throne. A large cast of supporting characters fleshes out this urban epic; a great many of the characters, despite their ultra masculine exteriors, also possess a depth and vulnerability. Dozens of memorable scenes will firmly entrench this film in your heart.
The film is also funny. Extremely funny, but in the subtle way that few non-Japanese films can deliver. Kind of the opposite of something like Cromartie which thrives on its gags. Essentially the plot is that whoever can fight his way to the top has 'conquered' Suzuran, and we witness the interplay between our two major contenders as they fist fight through the various alphabetized class ranks at the school. Along the way we meet other colorful characters, in particular the yakuza Ken Katagiri who takes a liking to young Genji and attempts to take him under wing. It's a wonderful film about manning up, redemption, and the human spirit. But most importantly it's about MASSIVE DELINQUENT FIST FIGHTS! At the most violent, graffiti-smothered campus this side of Hell.
Miike's direction is yet again unbelievable. The script is near perfect and the film even survives a few music video-like segments. The fight scenes are action-packed, bloody and glorious. It ends with a cliffhanger (Crows ZERO 2 releases later this month, also helmed by Miike) which could not have been more perfectly placed, in slick obedience to the film's internal continuity. Personally I can't wait for the sequel. If you're looking for an 'epic' film where you might least expect it, look no further, because Crows ZERO is stupendously awesome. Japan has its own Fight Club.
And look, I even managed to avoid spoilers this time...
Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (take the top, Genji!)