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Crows - Episode 0
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Crows Zero

The cool, the bad and the ugly:
A class photo for Takashi Miike's teen action drama Crows Zero.
AKA: Crows Zero  
Japanese: クローズ -ZERO  
Year: 2007  
Director: Takashi Miike  
  Producer: Mataichiro Yamamoto
  Writer: Shogo Muto, based on the manga by Takahashi Hiroshi
  Cast: Shun Oguri, Kyosuke Yabe, Takayuki Yamada, Meisa Kuroki, Kenta Kiritani, Sousuke Takaoka, Yusuke Kamiji, Tsutomu Takahashi, Suzunosuke, Kaname Endo,Sunsuke Taido, Goro Kishitani
  The Skinny: Miike's adaptation of Hiroshi Takahashi's wickedly violent teen high school comic is a visual onslaught of bloody mayhem, macho violence and brutual "mano a mano" combat. Yet surprisingly, amid the chaos Miike delievers a deep story which akins high school life to feudal warfare, where alliances are sought, deals made and friendships tested, all in the name of becoming top of the class.

One of my favorite Japanese movie series of the 80s was Nasu Hiroyuki's absurdly violent Be-Bop High School, which was based on Kiyuchi Kazuhiro's popular manga series that ran in "Weekly Young Jump" from 1983. It was outrageously violent and portrayed high school life as a battlefield, where personal combat was a means to prove a teen's worth and masculinity.

Enter Miike Takashi's recent Crows Zero which almost plays like an updated version of Be-Bop High School albeit with his own unique flourishes and stylistic nuances. Based on Takahashi Hiroshi's gritty comic series Crows, which runs in "Monthly Shonen Champion" magazine, the movie follows the exploits of Takaya Genji, the son of a high ranking Yakuza ganglord, who has transferred into the notorious high school Suzuran. Suzuran's student body has the unique distinction of being the most violent, lawless and brutal. Formal education is the least of the worries at the school as daily classes are almost non-existant and students spend most of the time either fighting with each other or allying themselves with the various factions that control the school.

The top "A" class comprises of allies of the current king of the school, Serizawa Tamao (Yamada Takayuki) who is called the "Hyaku Jyu Oh" (King of the Hundred Beasts) for his ferocity and strength in fights. Despite his baby-faced good looks and somewhat goofy personality, he is ruthlessly determined to keep his top position at whatever costs and beats down all challengers to his throne. New transfer student Genji Takaya (Oguri Shun) has just entered the school and begins to make a name for himself, first by beating up a group of Yakuza who had a run-in with Serizawa and then by beating a leading school warlord, Tamamura "Chuta" (Suzunosuke) to take over his class.

One of the Yakuza thugs sent after Serizawa, Katagiri Ken (Yabe Kyosuke), himself a former dropout from Suzuran, takes Genji under his wing and offers to teach him how to become the new king of the school, an achievement that Genji hopes will eclipse his father's reputation and give him fame. Together with Chuta, they begin to unite the other warring school factions in an effort to strike at Serizawa's class. Genji's allies include the dim-witted yet fiercely loyal Makise Takashi (Takahashi Tsutomu) and the brutal and calculating Izaki Jun (Takaoka Sousuke).

Genji's ambitions bring him into conflict not only with former schoolmate Tatsukawa Tokio (Kiritani Kenta), who has become Serizawa's right hand man, but also endangers the life of beautiful hip-hop singer Aizawa Ruka (Kuroki Meisa) a childhood friend, who is love with the "bad boy" Genji.

While Fudo Shugo's lively and energized script clearly draws inspiration from Takahashi's manga, it seems to also draw heavily from other similar high school delinquent manga adaptations like Be-Bop High School, Rokudenashi Blues and Sakigake! Otokojuku. There also seems to be elements reminiscent of Walter Hill's 1984 rock-n-roll fairy tale Streets of Fire, particularly with regards to the romance in between Genji and Aizawa.

Miike's direction is wickedly entertaining in its outrageousness and eye-catching style. Miike never fails to make visually interesting films and Crows Zero is no exception. Make no mistake, Crows Zero is a guy's film and it is filled with testosterone pumped action and showy machismo almost to a comical level. Yet, Miike surprisingly also inserts some genuinely nice and moving moments involving the complicated relationships between the various characters.

Miike's young cast is superb and does an awesome job bringing Takahashi's exaggerated characters to life. Oguri Shun (Azumi, RoboCon, Hana Yori Dango TV series) is mesmerizing in his role as Genji. His action scenes are terrific and he brings a devilish charm to his character. Yamada Takayuki (Dragonhead, Maiko Haaan) is also very charming in his role as Serizawa. He is not your typical villainous thug and in fact is quite likeable despite his character's actions (He's very similar to Russell Crowe's Ben Wade character in 3:10 To Yuma).

The stunningly Okinawan beauty Kuroki Meisa (Camus Nante Shiranai, Vexille) does terrific work in her small part and also gets to showoff her talents as a singer. Yabe Kyosuke (Sukiyaki Western Django, Kids Return, Dead or Alive) is another standout as the bumbling Yakuza Katagiri Ken. Yabe brings much heart and sympathy to his character and one can't help but feel for him as he tries to live his life's dream of conquering the Suzuran vicariously through Genji. The punk rock soundtrack - compliments of groups Ginjirou, The Street Beats and The Birthday - are appropriately loud and infectious as is Kuroki's R&B/hip-hop numbers.

Crows Zero is not for everyone and its over-the-top story won't win any awards. However, for your average male movie-going demographic, it is an absolute winner which is sure to please. (JMaruyama 2008)


Takashi Miike scored his biggest box office hit ever with manga adaptation Crows: Episode 0, and it's not hard to see why. Unlike the director's more celebrated, controversial, and just plain disturbing works, Crows is resolutely commercial and succeeds handily at being so, delivering a fine mix of edgy comedy and crowd-pleasing comic book roughhousing. Pretty boys, cool posturing, and fun ass-kicking scenes seal the deal: Crows: Episode 0 is a manga-to-movie adaptation par excellence.

Shun Oguri (The Neighbor No. 13) stars as Genji Takaya, the latest arrival at Suzuran Boys High School, where delinquents battle for supremacy because hey, that's what delinquents are supposed to do. The backstory to his battling ways: once upon a time, his gangster father (Goro Kishitani in a cameo) tried to beat all the gangs and unite the school, but he was unable to do so. Genji is here to complete his father's quest, not only to impress Dad but also to prove his abilities, but the going is tough. The first-year and second-year gangs are pretty rough already, but top man Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki "Train Man" Yamada) is a veritable beast - that is, when he isn't acting goofy or making a minor ass of himself. Regardless, Genji has his work cut out for him.

Crows: Episode 0 possesses a storyline that's largely indistinguishable from the umpteen "punks fighting in school" manga lining bookstore shelves. There's action, attitude, and also a healthy dose of humor that pokes fun at the macho posturing these frequently meterosexual Alpha males exhibit. Miike gets the tone of his comic adaptation correct, serving up deadpan comedy with ultra-serious posturing that consistently proves amusing. The whole plays as sort of a minor satire on more serious youth gang films, while also providing all the bells and whistles that commercial filmmaking requires. The rock soundtrack, messy but obviously manufactured production design, cartoony characters, and hilarious hairdos make this an obvious manga adaptation for the masses, and Miike never attempts to make the material more than it should be. He keeps everything entertaining and light, and mostly downplays any egregious melodrama.

Not that it's balls-to-the-wall fun in Crows. The film hits a second-act skid where more character details and comic book themes surface, and they're so typical of the genre that they only register out of familiarity and not actual effectiveness. Genji's love interest, a pretty rocker named Ruka (Meisa Kuroki) barely makes an impact, and the trials of low-rent Yakuza Ken Katagiri (Kyosuke Yabe), who helps Genji on his quest to conquer Suzuran High, never strike more than a perfunctory emotional chord. Ken looks to help Genji because he, too, attended Suzuran, and helping Genji is a way of making his pathetic life take on some meaning. There's also your standard brotherly man-love subplot about honoring your buddies - which is hardly surprising for a film of this genre. The performances are sound and the themes solid, but again, there's not much new or special here.

What is special is the film's sheer entertainment value. The comedy arising from the cartoonish characters and their deadpan serious attitudes is quite welcome, and the over-the-top fisticuffs are tops. People pound each other silly in Crows, but not to a level that's grotesque or disturbing. They just punch and kick each other one hell of a lot, with pauses to posture and pose in an exaggerated, but still quite cool manga manner. Miike's action is rendered in an ultra-slick way - with strobing shutter effects giving the action a music video look - and is far less extreme than one might expect from a man with his filmography. But this is Miike in commercial mode, and he handles his source material exceptionally well. Crows is not a movie to take seriously, and indeed the whole production seems so pointedly unrealistic that taking it seriously would probably indicate some fault on the part of the viewer. This is a thoroughly commercial picture that possesses enough cultural cachet to make it appear special, and that should be enough reason for Western fans of the Japanese cultural invasion (i.e., anime, manga, bishonen heroes) to get excited. In all likelihood, fans of the original manga won't be unhappy either. (Kozo, Reviewed at the Udine Far East Film Festival, 2008)

Availability: DVD (Taiwan)
Region 3 NTSC
2-Disc Edition
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

images credit: Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen