Japan 2007  Directed by: Takashi Miike Written by: Shogo Muto Manga: Hiroshi Takahashi  Produced by: Mataichiro Yamamoto Cinematography: Takumi Furuya  Editing: Shuichi Kakesu, Tomoki Nagasaka  Music: Naoki Otsubo  Cast: Shun Oguri, Kyosuke Yabe, Meisa Kuroki, Takayuki Yamada, Sansei Shiomi, Kenichi Endo, Goro Kishitani

Who’s winning the fight for Suzuran High may not be so important after all. There is nothing to win, is it? What do you want with run-down classrooms and buildings decorated with multiple layers of graffiti? This is about power, about who is the biggest big shot.

Miike’s CROWS – EPISODE ZERO is a testosterone fest second to none, preparing ground for his own 2009 CROWS ZERO II sequel that took the machismo even a bit further. Feminists better look the other way: Suzuran High is a patriarchal isle where men define themselves through violence, women need to be protected and occasionally have to be rescued (which in return earns them the right to take care of the hero’s wounds), and the entire society is based on the principle of survival of the fittest.

The intellectual level of Miike’s kind-of-prequel to Hiroshi Takahashi’s million-seller-manga is very, very low; CROWS – EPISODE ZERO is naive and care-free, but as genre movie it naturally isn’t interested in debating its subject. CROWS is not about the mechanisms of violence, the why or the how, no: CROWS is an action movie.

And not a bad one: I was happy back then to see Miike return to his roots, the juvenile delinquency sub-genre of his early films like the KISHIWADA SHONEN GURENTAI movie series. By Miike standards CROWS is very straight forward – what you see is what you get, one fight after another, interspersed only with some dramatic plot threads that add a bit more depth to the film.

Otherwise CROWS is class struggle of another kind: the Kingdom of Suzuran is looking for a successor to the throne, and the candidates are in for a very tough selection process. Miike knows how to please his fans: he knows the cinematic tricks, the grandeur, the punch lines; and he also knows the ways to distract from shoestring budgets, but he makes the best out of it as usual, with a good ensemble cast, fast pace and his trademark sense for big emotions.

CROWS – EPISODE ZERO is a good genre film, one with attitude and an ego as big as that of its characters. One of the not-so-successful gang members explains to Genji that with his graduation everything will be a thing of the past: what he hasn’t achieved by then he will never achieve later.

Sometimes there’s nothing to win despite all the fighting, even on the big screen. But for the time being we indulge in the illusion.



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