Crows Zero II (2009)
We looked at Miike Takashi's adaptation of Hiroshi Takahashi's Manga Crows Zero (2007) and enjoyed the popularist commercial irresponsibility and occasionally bizarre violence together with Miike's often inventive and thoughtful use of cinematography to enhance the story and emphasise the characters' increasingly deranged relationships. It was good to see Miike return to enjoyably irresponsible filmmaking. It's what makes him such an interesting and engaging director; he's as comfortable making critically regarded art-house films as he is shock horrors, extreme nuttiness, and even wonderfully strange children's fantasies like The Great Yokai War (2005). So it's with another sense of anticipation for entertaining unacceptability that we turn to Crows Zero II and ask, was the sequel worth the wait? It certainly did well at the home box office, beating Mamma Mia, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Quantum of Solace.
Genji Takiya (Shun Oguri) is King of Suzuran Boys High School. He inadvertently breaks a pact with rival school Hosen Academy when he protects Sho Kawanishi (Shinnosuke Abe) who has returned from a stint in prison and wants to try to make amends for killing using a knife – an unforgivable crime. The students are in their graduation year, even if the boys rarely seem to show any particular aptitude or inclination for the academic aspects of their education. But with those punching pupils from Hosen Academy riled to the max, individual and group skirmishes are inevitable and are likely to involve violent and painful consequences.
Miike returns to Suzuran Boys High School with the kind of joie de vivre you would expect from the high school students he is depicting – laying on plenty of enthusiasm, zeal and revelry in group violence. This extends beyond the characters and the plot - the camerawork, direction and editing are as frenetic as the choreography – establishing group shots are shown on rooftops with aerial moving perspectives (like the crows the Suzuran boys wish to be) that give the film a dynamic and kinetic visual edge. And then there are the brawls which use a bewildering array of techniques, and often in ways that show lengthy confrontations without resorting to swift multi-shot editing. Like Crows Zero there is also the pervasive stream of music throughout the running time which fulfils a number of functions. In some films the music provides either marketing potential for pop stars or story related emotional links for the viewer. But in the Crows Zero films the music is a fundamental part of the experience - directly related to the music that the characters, and we the viewers, see, often as live performances.
The fight scenes themselves maintain the extremities in execution seen in the original; varied and exciting they make full use of their environments. A one-on-one can often be an uncompromisingly savage affair with choreography that appears to be less influenced by Hong-Kong kung-fu films and more from a combination of video-gaming, ballet and manga, with novel, exhilarating and occasionally shocking results. In many ways you could view the denouement, inevitably an extended fight scene, as a rehearsal for the ultimate battle in Miike's 13 Assassins (Jûsan-nin no shikaku ) which followed this film and was more for the art-house crowd, although that lacked quite the sheer multitude of assailants from all quarters, had the naughty advantage of using weapons, and, although it was a marvellous film, lacked the J-rock.
Crows Zero II again shows Miike as the multi-tasking filmmaker who can seemingly create innumerable films in limited time periods. Who else can make teenage violence, shock horror, yakuza films, social commentary, kids films, heritage cinema, remakes and art-house classics which are all distinctly his? Crows Zero II is recommended for those up for watching entertaining irresponsi-cool teenage violence where attractive young men beat the living daylights out of each other to loud rock music.
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