Crows Episode 0



Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- Protean and prolific director Takashi Miike's latest youth actioner can be described as "Volcano High" with brains. Unlike "Volcano," a Korean teen cult action film which delivers punch after punch of repetitive mind-numbing violence, "Crows Episode 0" (Kurouzu Episoudo Zero) lucidly dissects the infrastructure of gangland in a high school, showing how it's a miniature of the yakuza pecking order. For those who prefer mind-numbing violence, there is enough protracted fist fights to give them concussions.

"Crows" is intended as the first of a trilogy adapted from Hiroshi Takahashi's manga series that sold some 32 million copies. Luckily, like other Miike films adapted from another media, "Crows" can be understood and enjoyed without any knowledge of its source. The film has Korean distribution, and like the recent, game-inspired "Like a Dragon," it will be snapped up by Miike's regular fans.

The prelude before the opening credits shows yakuza mutt Ken getting shot at the docks. As he sinks into the water, he yells, "Genji, if I hadn't known you..." The ending will come full circle to this sequence giving it a new meaning.

The real action starts at Suzuran High, nicknamed "School for Crows" for the scum it enrolls. Miike introduces a squad of full-on characters who have different physical looks and degrees of viciousness. The arrival of transfer student Genji Takiya (Shyun Oguri) and his open dissing of top dog Tamao Serisawa (Takiyuku Yamada) intensify the turf war. Genji vows to conquer the school as a litmus test to outdo his yakuza dad. Ken, a middle-aged Suzuran dropout, re-enters the picture as Genji's sidekick/mentor. They start a takeover war that puts the adage "if you can't beat them, join them" into painful practice. The ensuing strategic maneuvers, alliance building and shifts in balance of power mirror corporate culture. They are fascinating even for cerebral audiences.

There is also no lack of smutty humor, like group date setup that gets very sticky in the pants. The young cast overall give a strong performance but the romantic sideline is very weak. Goro Kishitani, the psycho yakuza in "Like a Dragon" steals the show in a cameo as Genji's father, a calm and collected crime boss with worldly-wise philosophy to spare.

After a succession of one-to-one tussles and battle royales that remind one of moving up levels in computer games, the film slowly builds up a moral universe with values of loyalty, friendship and self-sacrifice that are conservative and echo the epic struggle between historical Genji and Heike clans, Japan's answer to "The War of the Roses," which Miike reinterpreted in "Sukiyaki Western Django." Unlike "Django," one actually develops grudging respect for both sides.

The final show down is shot in a stylized f/x mix of slow motion and suddenly cranked up action. Except for an eye-popping car/motorbike chase, action choreography, though ferocious and graphic enough throughout, is not the most original of Miike's works. However, the ending is a cliffhanger that definitely psyches the audience up for the sequel.

The original comic is supposed to be a 1990s bible for Japanese "Yankee" (country pumpkin hooligans that have style affinity with the Leningrad Cowboys), but the image designer has revamped the handsome cast with slick black school uniforms and spiky gelled hair that makes them look very crow-like indeed. The dominant visual tone of moody black, grey and muddy brown adds a touch of mellowness to the rough-and-tumble.

TBS Pictures/Toho/MBS/Akita Shuten/CBC/Happinet
Director: Takashi Miike
Screenwriter: Shogo Muto
Based on the comic by Hiroshi Takahashi
Producers: Mataichiro Yamamoto, Hidemi Satani
Director of photography: Takumi Furutani
Production designer: Yuji Hayashida
Music: Naoki Otsubo
Editor: Shuichi Kakesu
Genji Takiya: Shyun Oguri
Tamao Serisawa: Takayuki Yamada
Ken Katagiri: Kyousuke Yabe
Ruka: Meisa Kuroka
Makise: Tsutomua Takahashi
Hideo Takiya: Goro Kishitani

No MPAA rating