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Crows Zero II
Crows Zero II

Shun Oguri goes for the flying beatdown in Crows Zero II.
Japanese: クローズZERO II  
Year: 2009  
Director: Takashi Miike  
  Producer: Mataichiro Yamamoto
  Writer: Shogo Muto, based on the manga by Takahashi Hiroshi
  Cast: Shun Oguri, Takayuki Yamada, Kenta Kiritani, Sosuke Takaoka, Kyosuke Yabe, Meisa Kuroki, Nobuaki Kaneko, Haruma Miura, Yusuke Kamiji, Tsutomu Takahashi, Suzunosuke, Kaname Endo, Shunsuke Daito, Yusuke Izaki, Hisato Izaki, Yutaka Matsushige, Goro Kishitani, Motoki Fukami, Shinnosuke Abe, Kengo Oguchi, Tomoya Warabino, Gou Ayano, Kazuki Namioka
  The Skinny: They're beautiful, they're boys, and they're back. The teen gang members of Crows Zero return, bringing the same kickass action and drama with them. Not really an improvement on the original Crows Zero, but since the first one was so fun, who really cares? Probably nobody.

Everybody likes a good gang fight, especially when it involves beautiful boys beating the crap out of each other while exchanging homoerotic looks. At least, that's one possible conclusion when considering the popularity of Takashi Miike's Crows Zero movies. The first film was a slam dunk for both young guys and girls, thanks to its stylish violence and too-beautiful guys, whose fisticuffs were usually tempered by an ardent, near passionate admiration for their foes. Crows Zero II refuses to fix what wasn't broken; the same beautiful guys are back, and the same stylish violence is present and accounted for. Hell, they've even added some new beautiful guys to the mix. Why then, does Crows Zero II feel like it's not as much fun as the first one?

In the wake of Crows Zero, life hasn't gotten any easier for Genji Takaya (Shun Oguri). His gang GPS is now dominant at super-tough Suzuran High, having defeated their rivals, the Serizawa Army, led by all-around badass Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada). However, Genji's position atop Suzuran's food chain doesn't make him the absolute leader, with continued resistance from underclassmen, Serizawa's bunch and also Rindaman (Motoki Fukami), Suzuran's hulking lone wolf. Things get worse when Suzuran alumni Sho Kawanishi (Shinnosuke Abe) is released from juvie, where he was incarcerated after murdering the gang leader of rival school Hosen. Kawanishi's freedom upsets the delicate truce between Suzuran's and Hosen's current students, and Suzuran's current state of disarray makes them ripe for a takeover. Will Genji be able to unite Suzuran before Hosen destroys them?

When Crows Zero debuted, it presented the teen gang brawling film in a dynamic way that transcended its tried-and-true genre status. Rather than go towards all-out comedy or super melodrama, Takashi Miike found the right balance of elements, mixing commercial gloss with low brow comedy, occasional satire, and a playful sense of self. While all that is present in Crows Zero II, it just doesn't feel that new anymore. Miike does change things up slightly; rather than wall-to-wall action, Crows Zero II serves it up slowly before building to a massive end blowout with the students advancing up the high school floors like players advancing through levels in a video game. The filmmaker winks to the audience are quite obvious, with the film calling even more attention to its self-seriousness and homoeroticism, while also eschewing the superfluous elements like having teachers at the school. All fun and all welcome, but also all very familiar.

Then again, this is a sequel so "more of the same" is what's expected. Miike doesn't go the bigger-is-better route, providing new characters and situations, but not raising the stakes in a felt manner. Belying the bloody brutality on display, the violence is surprisingly not explicit, and still possesses the first film's entertaining kickass style. Also, the assortment of new characters and actors deserves notice. As greasy-haired Hosen leader Narumi, musician Nobuaki Kaneko makes a fine foil to Shun Oguri and seems to be in on the movie's homoerotic joke. Effeminate, umbrella-carrying Hosen psycho Urushibara (Gou Ayano) is another standout addition, and Hosen underclassman Tatsuya Mito (the handsome Haruma Miura) makes a charismatic appearance, setting up future sequels. The returning cast members are fine too; Shun Oguri possesses the same dynamic physical presence as the intense Genji and Takayuki Yamada still charms as the more playful Serizawa. Love interest Ruka Aizawa (the returning Meisa Kuroki) provides a welcome female presence, but is relegated to the background in pretty much only two scenes.

What doesn't work as well in Crows Zero II is the film's latest dramatic subplots, especially one involving the returning Ken Katagiri (Kyosuke Yabe) and his relationship with the out-of-juvie Kawanishi. Their storyline builds on the "honor in high school" themes that Genji and company experience, moving into Yakuza rites-of-passage and other typical triad melodrama. There's wide-eyed overacting and screaming aplenty, but given the over-the-top situations of the high school storylines, it never rings entirely true. Crows Zero II is much more successful when confining its honor, drama and homoeroticism to the high school arena, where there aren't larger compromises or circumstances at play. Still, target audiences are likely to gloss over the film's less successful moments, and will only pay attention to the beautiful boys, brutal roughhousing, and too-cool-for-school posturing that make the Crows movies such guilty pleasures. Art this is not, but good, stylish comic book fun it is. (Kozo, reviewed at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival, 2009)

Availability: DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Mei Ah Entertainment
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

image credit: Hong Kong Asian Film Festival Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen