The 100 Best Contemporary Japanese Movies - Psycho Drama is launching an ambitious yet invigorating project to compile 100 of the best modern-day Japanese movies from the last 2 decades or so - that features the best young actors of their generation - from Joe Odagiri, Takako Matsu and Tadanobu Asano, to Satoshi Tsumabuki, Hikari Mitsushima, Mao Inoue, Ryuhei Matsuda, Shun Oguri and Masanabu Ando to the current crop of exciting young talents - Shota Sometani, Yuya Yagira, Kamiki Ryunosuke, Fumi Nikaido and Ai Hashimoto.
Takashi Miike who directed the first two Crows Zero movies has successfully introduced the series to international audiences and sparked more interest into Japanese manga. Written by Hiroshi Takahashi, it was adapted into the big screen by Shogo Muto and stars Shun Oguri, Takayuki Yamada, Sousuke Takaoka and Meisa Kuroki among others.
In post #1, we put the spotlight on the first movie Crows Zero and its main actor Shun Oguri.
As we anticipate the release of the 3rd installment, Crows Explode, we look back at the first two movies and examine why they became huge hits and gave its stars the kind of attention and adulation even felt until now.
The Story: Genji Takiya (Shun Oguri) is the new kid on the block at the notorious Suzuran High. The school has already earned its reputation as the School of Crows for violent gang fights. Timid and geeky students have no place in such rough environment where education is not even a consideration but the ability to fight and join the leading gangs are a-must. The current reigning leader is Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada) and his group the Serizawa gang.
Genji, whose father is a Yakuza heavyweight, has been promised the leadership of his father's group if he succeeded in reigning at Suzuran High and make all the gangs bow to him. A considerable mission since Genji lacks diplomatic skills and does not value team spirit, most definitely a key factor to succeed in Suzuran where numbers rule.
His fighting skills is already considerable and while he is new, the top gangs are already aware of his potential. In order to succeed he turned to a low ranked Yakuza member, Ken Katagiri (Kyosuke Yabe) for advise. Ken was a former student of the school and his intimate knowledge of the rules of the gangs and their powers and limitations enable Genji to finally challenge Serizawa.
Critical Buzz: Brutal as Hell reviewed the film and I quote a select phrase, about Genji's character:
Genji starts out as a character with almost nothing to say for himself, only a driving ambition to prove his worth in the School of Crows – but there is a system at play in Suzuran, and he needs help to understand it, which brings him to the attention of Ken, a thirty-something who knows what the consequences of harbouring unfulfilled ambitions can do to a person. Theirs is an unlikely friendship, but you know what? It’s believable and warm, not to mention very funny. As well as all the necessary ass-kicking Genji has to do to get closer to his goal, Crows Zero is also a look at the value of companionship. Genji isn’t the lone wolf he first sets himself out to be. Both characters grow exponentially during the course of the film’s two hours, but perhaps it is Ken’s development which is most striking. He begins his on-screen life as a scraping, clownish figure – abhorred by his yakuza boss, taken less-than-seriously by almost everyone else, he’s a man who is living with being second best. By the end of this film, he is something quite different. A strong supporting cast adds credibility to all of this: the violence might be superhuman, but the interrelationships have enough substance to make the character arcs seem real. [ source ]
Ruthless Culture adds:
While the foreground of Crows Zero is dominated by the need to conquer the school, the subplots all revolve around the tensions between what the individual wants and what people expect of them. Thus, Ginji struggles with both the expectations of his father and the expectations of his followers while Serizawa tries to cope with the fact that his gang expects him to deal with Ginji despite the fact that he thinks the pair could probably be quite good friends. In true yakuza picture style, these tensions are explored in a highly stylised and melodramatic manner that owes more to opera than it does to gritty crime fiction. In fact, one subplot resolves itself by having someone bellowing their devotion into a rain-soaked sky while another subplot resolves itself through an epic all-day battle sequence. As the film progresses, this movement between genres proves itself to be remarkably effective as the melodrama distracts from the episodic structure of the plot while the humour and violence prevent the film from getting bogged down in self-indulgent teenaged angst. [ read more ]
At the time of its release, Shun Oguri is already very popular in Japan. He is one of the leads in the TV drama Boys Over Flowers and has a considerable number of fans. He is also cast in another Takashi Miike film, Sukiyaki Western Django, but only a supporting role at that.
Takayuki Yamada lived up to his reputation as an outstanding actor and really did a great job playing the rival gang leader.
More raves for Oguri's acting @MovieExclusive:
What a difference an actor's choice in movies makes to his career. Check out the example of Shun Oguri, Gigolo Wannabe-Hanazawa Rui. I first noticed his performance in GTO, and what a fine impression he made back in 1999 as the botak angry teenager. Take on a few more Gigolo Wannabe roles and I assure you he will be condemned as nothing but a pretty face.
This is where Takashi Miike and Sukiyaki Western Django comes into play. There is nothing like an up-and-coming director and a quirky flick to cement his place as a credible actor. Shun has turned out to be Miike's muse somewhat (banish the gigolo-wannabe thoughts) and was impressive again in Crow's Zero. [ read more ]
Rotten Tomatoes' audiences rated it 80%, while IMDb showed both movies at 7.0 out of 10. Says a reviewer @IMDb:
Casting for this film is absolutely incredible. I recognized so many faces, many who established themselves in yakuza or delinquent roles, but the most pleasant surprise was Yamada Takayuki, who had his share of dark roles in the past, but never a violent one such as this, and possibly the first as a villain. I've never thought him as a wild type, but he was so cool as a villain and gave his character really big presence in this film. I'm still not convinced with Oguri Shun's acting or his role as a violent punk student, but he seemed to be less out of place as he was in "Hana Yori Dango" dorama series. All the other cast did what they do best, and a very high level of acting overall.[ source]
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Some Interesting Info:
The mega-hit Takahashi Hiroshi's comic, CROWS, has sold over 32 million copies. And is supposed to be a bible for Japanese 'Yankee' (country pumpkin hooligans). It was serialized in Monthly Champion from 1990 to 1998 and has the sequel 'WORST' which is currently at 19 volumes and boasts a printing of 27,000,000 copies.
Crows Zero earned a Best Actor prize for Shun Oguri and a Best Supporting Actor for Kyosuke Yabe in 17th Japan Movie Critics Awards.
Crows Zero grabbed top spot at the Japanese box office ending 7-week reign of popular Takuya Kimura's 'Hero'.
The movie sequel Crows Zero II was released in Japan in April 11, 2009 . According to producer Mataichiro Yamamoto, there was never any intention to end the story after only one film. However, this sequel is reportedly the story's conclusion.
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Shun Oguri VS Masahiro Higashide
Compared to the new star of Crows Explode, Masahiro Higashide, Oguri is now also an accomplished director and is into script writing as well. Higashide, however, is not someone you can look down and dismiss.
[ Watch the teaser trailer of Crows Explode and then compare with the previous movie, Crows Zero above, which one is better? ]
The model turned actor has already won two awards for his first ever movie, The Kirishima Thing. He is also cast as one of the leads in the TV series, xxxHolic. He is a topnotch actor even though he is just starting his movie career.
But playing a tough, rebellious and notorious character maybe new territory for Higashide. Can he equal the acting feat of Shun Oguri?
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