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Crows Zero II (2009)
Director: Takashi Miike

review by Jim Steel

A young man is standing at a grave when he's sighted by a gang who then give chase. That's how we begin, and that much is comprehensible. From then on there are questions. Mostly - who the hell's that guy? And where did he come from? And occasionally is this bit a flashback? It's sheer bedlam. Even the title appears to defy deconstruction.

It's possible to work out what the hell is going on after half-an-hour or so of carnage. This is a follow-up to Crows Zero and so probably makes more sense in that context; at least, if you've seen the first film. The two rival gangs turn out to be two rival schools. The heroes, mostly, are from Suzuran and dress in black. In all probability they are the crows of the title. Their mortal rivals are the neighbouring school of Hosen who wear pale grey blazers and, apart from the leaders, shave their heads. This is one of those films where characters are defined by their haircuts since, being a martial arts' film, hardly any of the actors have been selected primarily for their acting abilities. There is a sadistic who is a ringer for Joan-Crawford-era Michael Jackson but who barely says a word, for example. This high visual style is a clue that manga provided the original source for the series.

One of the things that throws a newcomer to this series is the state of Suzuran school; covered in graffiti, smashed windows, broken furniture, bare rooms. It takes a while for the penny to drop that this is a functioning school. There are no teachers anywhere in this film, or policemen, or any other authority figures unless we count the yakuza. Genji (Shun Oguri) has a father who is a Yakuza leader, and Sho (Shinnosuke Abe) - the victim of the attempted attack in the graveyard, is an ex-pupil who wants to join the organisation, but the two plot threads unravel from each other early on and might as well be in two different films. Sho had fatally stabbed a Suzuran leader two years earlier - use of knives being regarded as very dishonourable - and has just been let out of detention. But, in protecting him, Genji smashes the truce between the two schools. Battle commences. It is fair to say that if these pupils had been selected for Battle Royale then their numbers would have been reduced to the last-man-standing within five minutes.

The portrayal of women, albeit brief, is pretty crass. A barman's daughter offers herself unconditionally to Ganji since she's his girl (which appears to be news to him). Obviously her self-esteem needs some work. And there is a comedy moment when one of the more moronic Suzuran pupils attempts to seduce a schoolgirl with the aid or a rubber snake and a blanket on the ground. Given his social skills, one can't help but worry about the girl's safety but she is eventually rescued by other Suzaran pupils. This, one must remember, is supposed to provide light relief. The other comedy character is a knife-wielding fool who switches schools through an exchange scheme. Best just to pass over the comedy; those bits don't last too long either.

Miike's film is a fantasy. It bears as much relation to conventional reality as, for example, a musical does. It's vivid and crass and (most of the time) is a delight to watch. This second film has to have most of the characters graduate at the end in a token nod to realism - it's been a couple of years since the first film, after all - but Miike's brought in some younger peripheral characters just in case he gets the chance to make a third film. There's a ginger-headed giant in an anorak (yes, seriously!) at Suzuran and a delicately-featured boy at Hosen who show promise. More of the same beckons...

Crows Zero 2

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