Crows Zero [Kurozu Zero] is often cited as one of Miike's most commercial films. While this is hardly true (think Koshonin or One Missed Call) it certainly is one of Miike's slickest films gaining such international attention to date. The film has a solid budget, minimal weirdness and even a pretty linear and well-developed storyline. But it is still Miike alright.
Setting for the film is a notorious high school where the scum of Japan gathers to gain control over their rivals. Gangs are started and wars are fought without any of the teachers interfering. While this by itself may sound like a streak of Miike weirdness it's actually not an uncommon theme in Japanese entertainment. The film itself is based on a manga, for those who haven't read it the film could best be described as a mix of Blue Spring, Volcano High and Cromartie High.
Helping the setting is a typical Japanese J-Rock punk look and sound that gives each of the characters it's unique style. The weird dressing sense and crazy hairdos are lifted straight from a manga universe and, while a little silly, add a lot to the coolness of the gangs. Needless to say, there's a lot of posing and looking mean to be admired.
The story is pretty simple as newcomer Genji is out to prove himself to his father and is willing to take on the top chief of the school. He impresses from the start and is able to work his way slowly to the top, where he will face Tamao to gain ultimate control of the school. There are no twists and turns so you know what to expect from the movie when it comes down to storyline development.
Visually the film looks splendid, but indeed a lot slicker than earlier Miike films. There is not too much room for visual silliness anymore (although there is that bowling scene), though Miike makes excellent use of the budget he most obviously received. The action scenes in particular look stunning, with perfect use of fast forward and slow motion to increase the impact of the punches. The visual timing is spot on, aided by some very solid editing work. It's reassuring to see that Miike should not be limited to working with small budgets only.
The soundtrack is a little less satisfying. Though I can live with the J-Rock sound in a film like this, the time spent on concerts and the like is a little too long. The R&B intermezzos are probably even worse and make the film a little too smooth in some scenes. A film like this could've done without them and probably would've benefited from it too.
Acting is strong all round, with Shun Oguri showing off a lot of his abilities. Supporting roles are strong too, giving the film that little extra flair. And I'm always pleased to see Kenichi Endo liven things up a bit. Most importantly, the actors succeed in keeping a lighter tone throughout the scenes without hurting the gritty feel of the film.
Crows Zero is not Miike's best film, though it will probably become one of his more popular ones. While the exterior of the film is a little slicker than usual there is still enough Miike weirdness left and some really bone crunching fights to behold. The film never slacks and even gives the viewer a nice look into the whole gang structure in between the fights, making it a little more than just another butt-kicking action flick.
Miike is near perfect in setting the atmosphere for this film, only the music can be a little too much sometimes. Apart from that, I still prefer Miike as a loose gun director, but I can hardly criticize a film like this just because of that. A fun ride, intense where it needs to be and solid in all other areas.