Takashi Miike adaptation of “Ichi the Killer” stirred a lot of controversy for it depiction of exaggerated violence securing it popularity would be greater than the source material that inspired it. In contrast Takashi Miike’s take on the manga simply titled, Crow, is more accessible while maintaining all of Miike’s signatures traits. Once again, Miike’s adaptation of a manga outdoes it source material.
Crows: Episode Zero takes place in Suzuran High School, an all boys school full of delinquents and gangsters. Focusing on newcomer Genji Takaya plan to take down reigning school gangster Tamao Serizawa. Populated with a large cast of two dimensional characters there is a lot of story threads that it needs to slowly get across before the promised big finale. Some characters especially if their female get delegated to the background until needed. It setup is over the top with numerous factions all fighting for supremacy in high school Suzuran. None of the characters resemble real people rather are testosterone filled and anime-like teenagers. Adults never pay much attention to the violence with some supporting the characters to continue on with their everyday activity. Characterization is thinly sprinkle throughout to show the characters softer side. All the characters might love to fight, but the film is not afraid to show them to take a breather from using their knuckles. Showing both Genji and Tamao recruiting members to grow their numbers in various ways. From a double date to giving or receiving a good beating to prove their worth to faction leaders. There is neither a define “good” or “bad” among the characters. Allowing opportunity for humor ease the mostly serious characters and drama to add more meaning to the conflict. Embracing the silliness of its plot the characters never once make it apparent how goofy it all is. Playing up the angle there is more meaning to becoming top dog where your status is literally an everyday fight for survival. Where it does fail is giving a single character to emotionally invest in. This is a result from episodic pacing that has a tendency to loose sight of who to follow and when to follow them. Given the serious tone and wild nature of its character the episodic pacing is rather fitting too. Ensuring small ounces of chaos before the all out brawl consisting of (according to the film) over one hundred students.
Takashi Miike demonstrates a masterful understanding of the aesthetic required to perfectly adapt it chaotic material. He’s straightforward with the delivery of his story while visually amps up the look that perfectly suits it. Miike introduces a leather jacket mentality to the costuming that helps the actors to triumphantly peacock around, showing off their outlandish hairstyles and detailed costuming, generating attitudes and levels of threat without a line of dialogue needed to be uttered. The school building and other sets exemplifies the chaos with its several graffiti paintings around it dirty, clutter, and decaying environments going along with the mood. Switching between brightly lit locations when things are at an ease or comedic and becomes darker whenever a serious fight ensues. Standing in strong contrast is the humor, of course, which is handled by the characters in a dead-pan way. At times the talking can be quite strong and crude, at others we are presented with human bowling pins that Tamao just kicks away with a giant ball in best manga manner when he has nothing else to do. The fight scenes are a technical highlight for Miike who uses slow and fast motion techniques to stylize fights. He then uses bone breaking sound effects to get across the impact while with his camera he connects the throw of the punch. Every fight scene always looks clean with the choreography being nicely performed. Even if the fight scenes aren’t intricate beyond some basic back and forth punching and kicking they are large in scale. Editing adds to the episodic feel of the film that sometime goes back and forth between unrelated scenes. The most prominent one being in the climax which cuts between the big brawl, a hospital operation, and a musical performance. The soundtrack switches between fun, easy listening J-Pop to punk-rock soundtrack does its share to make the testosterone getting hammered through the viewer’s veins.
The acting in the film is superb all around while the physical appearance of the actors is questionable. They all deliver good performances, but for a film about teenagers most of them look their more in their late twenties high school students. Shun Oguri and Takayuki Yamada get the most screen time as the leaders of opposing factions. Takayuki Yamada is more lay back and cocky with his appearance painting him deceptively different than from what he actually is. Yamada appearance adds to his aura of being the seemingly invincible tough guy when he’s beating up several teenagers like it is a mundane activity. Shun Oguri is his exact opposite appropriately coming across as a wannabe tough guy. His spiky hair and punk-rock clothing hide an emotional demeanor with no confident. Oguri gets more opportunity to show more varied emotions for those he care for. Ken Ichi Endo is the last actor who actor gets an equal presence with the leading actors. Spending most of his scenes playing off Shun Oguri. As Oguri legitimately becomes more tough, Endo becomes more human with his transformation. Supporting cast are also good making the characters feel real with their closing plot threads ending satisfactory. Actresses do fine in their role even if they serve nothing more than plot convenience. Meisa Kuroki is the only one of the few actresses that receive a fair amount of screen time, but is not given much to do from token damsel in distress.
Crows: Episode Zero is over the top, loud, contains great fights with a large scope, and benefits from Miike well defined direction. Miike gives artistic value to a loud, over the top, and violent film that otherwise would not have had them. While the story isn’t on par with Takashi Miike masterful execution and great acting. It great qualities turns the prosperous story of “Crows: Episode Zero” to an enjoyably loud, straightforward, and violent film succeeding in its goal of delivery pure entertainment.