Crows Zero – クローズ ZERO
Director: Takashi Miike (三池 崇史)
Cast: Shun Oguri (小栗 旬), Takayuki Yamada (山田孝之), and Meisa Kuroki (黒木メイサ)
Macho posturing at its most blatant, Takashi Miike’s accessible adaptation of the ultra-violent manga is also his most successful film to date at the box office thanks to its endless supply of androgynous pretty boys, adequately staged comical violence, and unabashed commercialism, the latter of which is something you don’t often find in Miike’s older films. But while he manages to put his stamp on this film and throw in his favorite theme of outsiders trying to fit in, it all feels like a very minor notch on his belt.
Genji Takaya (Shun Oguri) is one bad dude. His hair’s slicked back, he never smiles except in light-hearted instances of bromantic camaraderie, and he’s on a quest to control Suzuran High School, notorious for its complete lack of education and copious amounts of violence and gang activity. Surviving at Suzuran certainly does not depend on anything remotely related to studying, but instead is a matter of joining the right gang and forming as many alliances as possible to literally beat down the opposition. Afterall, fights can and do occur at any time. Genji’s primary opposition? That would be the equally bad dude Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada, from the not-so-true love story Densha Otoko, 電車男), who is closer than anyone to conquering the school. But whereas Genji’s motivation is to gain the approval of and succeed his crime boss father, Serizawa goes about his pummeling with gleeful abandon and little motivation save for showing his superiority. But when Genji teams up with lowly yakuza thug Katagiri (Kyosuke Yabe), himself a former Suzuran student, and learns how to both attract and manage his own crew, he very quickly becomes a threat to Serizawa’s rule.
Visually, the film is a pure manga adaptation. From the hilarious posturing to the demilitarized school and the overblown machismo, the style is consistent and well-packaged. However, the manga-ness of the film is also its undoing. It’s a well-conceived and well-paced self-contained story, but it’s also pretty generic and gives you little reason to care for anyone inhabiting this universe because of its shallow nature. From a genre perspective, the characters are familiar to those who have seen even a few yakuza-themed films, and motifs of loyalty, honor, and strength are noticeably present but also extremely standard. In short, Miike transposes the manga’s surface elements to film without giving us a reason to care. I will agree that style can sometimes make up for a lack of depth, but this is not the case with Crows Zero thanks to the standard plotting and emotionally vacant characters. Faring the worst is cookie cutter singer/dancer Meisa Kuroki as tepid love interest and cookie cutter singer/dancer Luca Aizawa. We care because she’s present in the film, she’s blandly pretty, and mostly because we’re supposed to, certainly not because she is compelling in any sense of the word. Faring much better is Takayuki Yamada, relishing in his flamboyantly bad boy role as he takes on Genji’s evergrowing gang. And Shun Oguri? Well, he is serviceable as the brooding anti-hero, but that’s about it. A little more depth and a little less brooding would make him infinitely more likeable.
Action-wise, the film is void of wire-assisted action in favor of more direct pummeling, albeit with some occasional, CGI-assisted cartoonification. Take a look at one of the action scenes here:
By the time the film’s final confrontation rolls around, we know what to expect in terms of action, and action we get in the form of an all out barrage of yelling, flying fists, punishing kicks, and more yelling. Naturally, only one man can be left standing. It’s extremely well-staged chaos, but it’s undermined by the generic cross-cutting with Luca belting out a forgettable ballad at a dance club. Thankfully, the film ends on a much more interesting and charismatic note, leaving it wide open for a sequel (which is due out in Japan this month). Hopefully the next episode will get beyond genre and source trappings in favor of something a little more fresh, a little more Miike.