Last year at the Santa Barbara Film Festival I saw the rather splendid 20th-Century Boys, first of a trilogy that became Japan’s top box office series of all time. I was hoping for at least one of the sequels this year, but instead we got something if anything even weirder, from out-there bad boy Takashi Miike, Crows Zero II.
I had no idea what happened in Crows Zero I but it turned out not to be a problem as part II seems to be more of the same; the rock video opening credits (literally) replay the climactic rumble from part I and I suspect that’s all one needs to know. For the crows are gangs of tough, posing kids who live only to rumble. The truce between the two gangs recklessly broken by newcomer Genji, the fight is on. There’s two gangs, the Hosun and the Suzurun, the former united and shaven-headed like monks (why do only the leaders have hair? Why not – it’s cool), the latter a group of bickering sub-gangs with more of a cool J-rock street-punk vibe and whose hang-out is an impressively graffiti-covered downtown ghetto (in fact both gangs’ lairs are dilapidated high schools, from which the main protagonists “graduate” at the end to make way for a new generation and, presumably, the next sequel). The pose about like stars, the lieutenants are a well-distinguished bunch and then these hordes of faceless goons.
The movie is about two things: rough bloody brawling and cool sexy men. Rarely have I seen such an outrageous (-ly enjoyable) display of barely concealed homo-eroticism. Several of the leads are J-rock stars, hence the inclusion of live rock concert footage at various points, and the whole flashy affair is aimed unashamedly (but skilfully) at a youth audience. I wonder if they’re meant to get the subtext. The boys pose and preen (the Suzurun even cut one another’s hair), outfitted in nicely tailored short tunics that show off those sexy snake hips, with selective accessories and manga hair, and far more bone-china pretty boys than bearish brutes. The macho posturing is out of control – too many moments to count where you’d swear they’re about to kiss.
There’s also barely a female face in the whole film; when the tough thuggish “gorilla” of the Suzurun goes on a date with his little schoolgirl “bunny” it’s played incongruously for the broadest of laughs; it’s a bit of a surprise to find that Genji has a girlfriend (her girl-band gets a little music video moment also) but when to his surprise she assents to his chest-puffing “let me do you” on the stairs of a club, he claims tiredness and goes home to bed. Instead, he wanders mournfully and runs into the opposing gang leader Taiga (though he doesn’t know him) and they share a tender cigarette. Taiga is the source of much of the homo-eroticism, vaguely effete, constantly talking about “real men”, savouring the smell of their workout space and even sitting down hard on the crotch of a felled subordinate to make an admonishing point; but the jig is really up when Genji’s father, teaching him the philosophy of the punch, tells him that his has no love in it. “When he hit me” etc etc..
There’s a subplot about the Suzurun’s former leader, now out of juvie and wanting to join the Yakuza, but it could (indeed should) have been entirely dispensed with, and Genji’s listless apathy gets a bit old, but his self-hating narcissism does at least allow him to turn up at the final gang-bang all on his own to kick off a remarkably extended sequence of mass choreography. There’s a lot of fighting in this movie. A lot. Really, an awful lot. Not martial arts, but street brawling, and it’s punishing, jubilantly sprayed over with lashings of hard rock guitar solo (don’t worry, there’s plaintive crying guitar solo too for the moments of pouty soul searching). The make-up department has a field day with endless cuts, bruises, bandages and bloodied vests (nothing life-threatening – just manly and tough).
The final showdown sees Genji having to make it to the roof of the Hosen’s lair for a mano a mano, and the structure allows the main opposing characters to pair off on the way up, each floor bringing a stronger opponent, and it really doesn’t matter who wins so long as they get to throw a cool pose, preferably in skinny pants and standing arched all broken boy-doll, severely bloodied but heroically unbowed. Favourite climactic moment: down and almost out kid takes out a tube of glue (don’t bother asking why) and squeezes its ejaculate in lovingly lit close-up before rising to kick some serious ass. The most physically affecting movie of the festival so far, I exited feeling severely beaten up and possibly molested. But not in a bad way.