I thought I should get around to reviewing a more modern, over-the-top sort of film, and Crows Episode Zero is just that. Based on a famous manga, this film is focused on gang warfare within a decrepit high school and was directed by the cult-favorite director, Takashi Miike. I’ll start with the trailer [in Japanese], which explains more than you need to know, probably.
Yeah, so that’s how that is. You probably didn’t get what they’re saying…and it doesn’t make much sense to Japanese people anyway. The words you hear a LOT during the trailer, and during the movie are: “Suzuran no teppen,” which means the top of Suzuran. More familiarly, it could be “head honcho” or “boss” of Suzuran, which is the crazy rundown high school full of gangs. The premise is that it has never been united under one leader and that Genji, the new student and son of a yakuza boss is going to try. Here, he sprays his name under the title.
Though it’s a school for boys only, there has to be a girl involved. In this case, she’s Genji’s love interest, played by the up-and-coming Meisa Kuroki [who broke onto the scene in Who's Camus Anyway? which I will be reviewing also]. This is one of the many plot points that has no basis and no plausibility; she’s the beautiful girl who moonlights as a popular R&B singer and happens to choose Genji.
And of course it would be a boring movie without an antagonist. Genji’s arch-rival during the film is Serizawa, the other guy with a chance at ruling Suzuran. Surprisingly, Miike actually gives him a depth of character and makes you almost feel for the guy. Still, he’s got a sort of otherworldly aura about him. He’s the sort of character that begs for this movie to be done as an anime rather than live action. Here he is on the left.
So far this has been a synopsis. The reasons for watching Crows Episode Zero are few, but they’re worth it, if you know what I mean. Just like a Tarantino film, it doesn’t matter that the circumstances are nearly impossible and that any rational person would do the exact opposite of what the characters are doing. Miike makes his characters look tough and throws them into tougher looking environments. There is a gritty quality about this world of theirs that could never be seen or felt in Japan today [or ever?]. You know how TV tries to make you believe that high school problems actually matter? Ex: Dawson’s Creek, 90210, The O.C. — This film succeeds in that goal.
The best part about it is the aesthetic style. Miike has proven over the years [with Ichi the Killer, Audition, etc] that he can do violence and do it well. This time around, he achieves it while simultaneously producing a strong yakuza visual influence. It’s over the top, and that’s why we like it. Does he have to be kicked through that window? Yes. Do those guys need lead pipes to beat up just one guy? Absolutely.
Do we really need umbrellas during this ridiculous downpour?
Eventually, things come to head and there’s the climactic ending. It follows Hollywood rules, so the main character is forced to exert himself in a way he never expected possible and hopefully learns something about himself for it. But it also follows Japanese action rules, which means that you could mistake the penultimate scene for a Street Fighter movie because of all the drop kicks.
There is a sequel that came out in 2009, which I haven’t seen yet. This one is available on Netflix, though, so if you’re up for a deceptively good movie, it comes recommended.