What is there left to say about Takashi Miike that hasn't been said yet, in ample detail and often in learned studies' He is, without any doubt, the most prolific filmmaker around, barely 47-years-old and credited with 85 feature films. Only this year he has brought out four new ones. The last one, Sukyiaki Western Django, premiered in Venice barely six weeks ago. And the year is not over yet.
Crows is, naturally, another cult item for midnight crowds around the world, but most particularly Asia. Miike's wildly violent opera will not disappoint them. He has his formulae, usually picked up from the manga culture of the Japanese youth, and he belabours them to death in his films. Whether with fists, guns or swords, the name of the game is intensity. Hit before you talk.
In this film, the reason behind the inevitable mayhem is a son's wish to outdo his father, the leader of a yakuza gang, in everything the old man achieved.
His first goal is to become top dog at the scariest school in town, one packed to the gills with scumbags of every type and variety - just the kind of justification Miike needs to take apart the gang system at its adolescent stage and show how the grown-up hoods get their early education and training.
Though less disturbingly violently than some of the blood-curling, head-chopping bloodbaths he indulged in earlier films, there is still plenty of pain inflicted here as masses of teenagers beat each other to a pulp, absorbing the kind of punishment that can be taken only in films and even then, with frequent cuts in between the takes.
His numerous fans, most of them under 30, will scream in delight while others will shrink in horror and Miike will go on being a favourite of the late night shows, with lucrative anciliary DVD sales assured.
The plot - supposedly a prequel to a similarly-titled manga by Hiroshi Takahashi which sold 32 million copies in print - is simplicity itself, or so it seems.
Genji (Shyun Oguri) has moved to the infamous Suzuran High School, better known as 'The Crows School' because every no-good punk and potential delinquent of suitable age is enrolled there.
He asked to enrol, to show his father, who had attended the same alma mater, that he is made of sterner stuff.
On his first morning at school he single-handedly beats up a few third-rate yakuza underlings sent by their boss to settle an account with Tamao (Takayuki Yamada) one of the student gang leaders.
Next, he sets out to bait that same gang leader, and the rest of the film shows them organising their armies, striking alliances, plotting and coercing to get one foot ahead, and regularly flexing their muscles by catching one of the opponents and taking him apart.
The skirmishes grow with every encounter, leading to the inevitable grand finale in which every single extra on the back lot is brought back into the film, to participate in an orgiastic explosion of pent-up rage. In in this case it isn't even hatred driving them because by the time this takes place, the leaders of the two gangs have begun to respect or, God forbid, even like each other a little.
If one discounts an occasional dart between the eyes or an accidental baseball bat on the head as actual humor, the comic relief is provided here by a low ranking gangster, Ken (Kyousuke Yabe) who pretends to tutor Genji in his attempt to win the battle over the supremacy at school.
He is executed in the opening sequence, and then the execution is reviewed again at the end, another indication that in this film, Miike is actually in a mellow mood, at least on a Miike scale.
Whether anyone will care to chase these finer points in the film or not, remains to be seen. Miikites couldn't care less as long as rivers of adrenalin keep pumping in the veins and kicks are mightier than words. The rest are put off by the violence beyond caring whether there is anything lurking behind it or not.
Still, it has to be conceded that his films, this one included, are painstakingly and energetically directed, very well shot and brilliantly cut. Probably the best achievement of all is in the sound department, which conveys better than any image the resonance of agonizing pain inflicted by the impact of every blow.
As for the acting, anything beyond grunts, frowns, and occasional ironical smiles, is not welcome in this climate, unless it is the bumbling Yabe who is trying to teach others things he has never managed to learn.
Returning to the basics, in the spirit of the film's last sequence, this is all about man's Sisyphean struggle to go all the way up to the top, only to discover, once there, that another mountain, even higher, is waiting to be conquered.
Here it is put in high school terms, but switch the players and the weapons, and you have the same kind of cutthroat confrontation at every stage in life. Not a bad conclusion for a picture which pretends to think with its fists only.
Shogo Muto based on comic book by Hiroshi Takahashi