The credits at the end of Takashi Miike’s Crows Zero offer stern and sensible legal advice to any viewer, particularly appropriate to a particular age bracket: ‘Smoking and drinking of alcohol by minors is forbidden by law’ – a healthy, sound and moralistic dictum but arguably, in this instance, one that could be expanded to suggest perhaps avoiding group violence, savage beatings, baseball bat brutality and crime syndicate association? But then again would you expect such socially astute behaviour in a film by Takashi Miike? His joie de vivre and rebellious disposition along with a multitude of extreme themes are what make Takashi Miike’s films so consistently engaging, from the controversial extremes of Ichi the Killer (2001), the art house savage samurai drama 13 Assassins (2010) or even the fantastical confrontations in the children’s film Yokai Wars (2005).
Suzuran Boys High School is not a typical educational establishment. Although they do have teachers and classes, school etiquette seems to have a requirement for group conflict as well. The School of Crows is considered to be the roughest in the nation and for good reason, even down to its motto and the behaviour of its pupils. It is asserted by the authority-kicking youth delinquents that at Suzuran Boys High School, ‘a man’s worth is proven by his fists.’ Takiya Genji desires to be The King of Suzuran in more ways than a simple graffiti declaration. No easy feat, even with backing from his gang and his amazing ability to be impervious to pain – he can be smashed against all and sundry with only limited effects on his desire to engage in further clashes. The current King of Suzuran, as far as his reputation goes, is Tamao Serizawa. Genji’s plan to lead the school will result in a multitude of one-on-one and gang brawls that will ensure conflicts throughout the classrooms. These include the Mikami brothers in class B and the enigmatic but notoriously strong Rinda-man, a second year with an enviable fight record. If to rule that school were not enough, the world outside Suzuran has numerous distractions in the form of girls, rock music and long established yakuza gangs.
Crow Zero embraces themes that can be seen in much of Takashi Miike’s oevure whilst manifestly remaining its own film. Despite the director being able to command larger budgets these days, the raw feeling of the auteur that helped launch his early career remains as he combines elements of unacceptable behaviour and graphic violence in a style that is completely cool, with some lovely ostentatious camera work. Irresponsible but hip, stylish but grunge, Crows Zero also features a soundtrack that matches this ideal. The main score is by Naoki Otsubo but the soundtrack includes plot-relevant indie, rock, metal punk J-Rock with The Street Beats.
Based upon the manga by Hiroshi Takahashi, Takashi Miike offers us a film that, once it establishes its purpose, delivers the events in a way that balances the drama with the brawls and successfully portrays anime fights using live action, enhanced by distinctive sound effects and extreme crashing of characters with scenery, weaponry and each other. Less irresponsible and more irresponsi-cool, Crows Zero is enjoyable entertainment – a violent but fun drama that parents of teenagers will probably disapprove of, but that’s what this kind of film is all about.