[Our thanks again to Guillem Rosset for his ongoing coverage of the Sitges festival. He's making me very sad about the things I'll miss before I get there.]
Takashi Miike has grown up. He's no more that director who worked non-stop on TV or direct to video productions, releasing six or seven movies every year (maybe more). Well, he's still capable of directing a couple of movies per year, which is still considerably superior to his colleagues' rate. But furthermore he's became a director capable of attracting a wide audience to theaters, with box-office breaking blockbusters. A perfect example of this was Crows Zero, an adaptation from Hiroshi Takahashi's successful manga, which hit the top of the charts both in box-office and in DVD releases. So it's only logical that a sequel would be on its way soon.
In Crows Zero II we go back to the troublesome Suzuran high school and its bizarre band of students (known as "crows"), who live and breath only to fight and prove themselves by the strength of their fists. The story picks up where the previous film ended, so we find Genji Takaya as the king of Suzuran after defeating all the opposing factions (breaking some bones in the process, of course). But now he's the top badass around he finds himself unsatisfied, and the momentary calm at the school seems about to fall apart at any time. Furthermore, this time Miike chooses to throw a new element into the game: the Hosen high school, Suzuran's historic rivals. They've maintained a truce for the last years, but as one would expect, it won't last long. Soon Genji gets involved on a fight with Hosen students, rendering the truce completely pointless.
From this point, the film becomes perfectly predictable for those who watched the previous one. There's only one way to prove who's the best in the Crows' world, and it's bringing to his knees everyone standing in your way. Besides Genji, the whole cast from part one comes back to reprise their roles and some new characters make their introduction. And maybe that's one of the bigger flaws of the movie: character's development has been reduced to the minimum expression (and it's not like they were Shakespearean characters to begin with), and some of the returning roles seem a little too forced as they don't play any major role in the movie. The feminine roles are practically non existent, I'm not exaggerating at all if I say there's no more of 5 minutes with females on screen.
But the film is also well aware of its strengths, and so Miike delivers an extra dose of epic fights with hundreds of cool-looking students involved and a powerful rock'n'roll soundtrack. And he directs those scenes with energy and steady hand, making a wonderful use of the sound to add even more power to the blows. Even though there's a lot going on screen, you never get lost and there's a clear picture of who's fighting who. One thing I missed though, is the little "Miike details" so to speak. Those unexpected camera movements or editing tricks that had become his trademark and add some flavor to the movie (for example, there's one scene in the previous film where a student goes rolling through the floor after receiving a punch, and we see only "snapshots" of his falling, creating a very nice manga-style effect). Overall, the movie has a more serious tone even it also offers some comedic moments.
It's a movie that will please Crows' universe followers (it sure did in the Sitges screening) and it seems to close one of its chapters. But I'm pretty sure it won't be long till we hear of some freshman willing to accept the challenge and prove himself worthy of inscribing his name on the rooftop of Suzuran's high school.
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