DVD Review: Crows Zero II – A Sequel By Takashi Miike
A very different beast from its predecessor!
Takashi Miike returns to the Suzuran High School for Boys for a second slice of all-action fighting in this sequel to his 2007 hit Crows Zero. Having fought their way to the top of the tree in the first film, Genji (Shun Oguri) and his GPS alliance struggle to hold the school together in the face of an all-out attack by the students of the Hosen Academy, the ‘Army of Killers’. There is a long-lived hatred between the two schools, but also an uneasy truce. However, in his desire to rule Suzuran completely, Genji mistakenly breaks the truce and has to prepare for all-out war between the two schools. Meanwhile, Yakuza escapee Ken (Kyosuke Yabe) is forced to return in order to repay his debt to his former boss and save the life of another former Suzuran student who is hell-bent on proving his worth and dying in what he misguidedly sees as an honourable fashion.
2007’s ‘Crows Zero’ was an unusual and somewhat confused film, but one that entertained throughout. Part action adventure, part comedy, it was a non-stop ride of fight after fight, and while it was never quite sure what it was, it certainly didn’t stint on the fighting. In this sequel Takashi Miike has moved his characters on, both in terms of more coherent plotting and more maturity within themselves. Where the first film was a tale of boys acting out their fantasies of manhood, Crows Zero II sees the boys becoming more like the men they were pretending to be before. Each shows more maturity, more realisation of what it means to take on responsibility for your actions. Genji and Serizawa are more measured, contemplative creations here. They think and consider before they act. It is as though, following the fights of the first film, they now realise that leadership isn’t about who can fight the best or longest, but about who can handle the responsibility of leadership and how to deal with the problems of those you lead. This makes for a much more fulfilling character led film, but sadly it does so at the expense of the action and comedy. This is no longer a funny story, but a deadly serious one. People can and do die, and the cartoon violence of the first film makes way for violence that has consequences. Again, this is a much more mature and grown up version of reality.
However, being more contemplative does slow the film down a great deal. This is not the hyperactive experience of the first film. The sequel has few fights, and those it does feature tend towards the short and vicious. There is a long extended fight at the end, and it is truly inventive, using the Hosen Academy building as a multi-layered fight challenge for Genji and his crew. But this takes an age to get to, and many may well give up on the film long before reaching this thrilling, if obvious, conclusion. The big problem is with Genji himself. In the first film he was a moody and enigmatic character, who nevertheless oozed charisma. Here, for plotting reasons, he has become a whiney pseudo-goth/emo type who fails to inspire anyone around him, especially the viewer. The boy who has everything (excepting that he has yet to beat Rinda-man in a fight) seems determined to let it all fall away from him. Great from a dramatic viewpoint, but Miike fails to make the character relatable or empathetic. Such a shame as the actor clearly has some real acting ability, but it is wasted on the Genji character in this film. And the same can be said of many of the other returning characters. Serizawa is a broken man, hiding out with his crew avoiding anything and everything. Ruka (Meisa Kuroki) returns and sings another song but utterly fails to engage on any level, another purposeless cipher of a character. However Genji’s lieutenants also return, and with a vengeance. They manage to steal many of the scenes they are in, playing the role of the audience in so much as they seek answers to Genji’s lack of interest and motivation. They also take on much of his workload, leading the fight and the GPS army. There are some pleasing progressions and sub plots for these characters, but none more so than the return of Ken, Genji’s overly enthusiastic Yakuza mentor from the first film. Playing a more philosophical and engaging version of the role, Ken is involved in a plot to murder Genji’s father, the local Yakuza boss. For Ken, life is now of utmost importance, much more so than honour or pride. As such he is motivated to help and old friend break free from his murderous destiny and embrace life and freedom. Once again both we and Ken are surprised by the generosity and mercy of his former boss.
‘Crows Zero II’ is a very different beast from its predecessor, a change that offers maturity and character development, but also loses much of its power, speed and originality. Takashi Miike enjoys presenting us with such changes, challenging the viewer to evolve with the films. This is a noble cause, but one that can leave the fans seeking their pleasures elsewhere. Such a sea change of styles is a dangerous thing, and with ‘Crows Zero II’ it has not exactly paid off. On its own the film works as a decent thriller with occasional action scenes. As a sequel though, it fails to do what the original did so well, while offering a very different view of the main protagonists. Evolution, growth and development are fine things for a sequel, but too much distance from what made the original such a success is an oft-trodden but rarely successful road. Definitely worth a watch, just to revisit some old friends in a familiar environment, but be prepared for a much slower experience, one that doesn’t reach its full potential until the final third.
Label: MVM Entertainment
Release date: 2 July 2012
Running time: 133 mins
Genre: Asian cinema, Martial arts, Action
Director: Takashi Miike
Stars: Shun Oguri, Kyôsuke Yabe and Meisa Kuroki
Review written by Neil Gardner