Proving that he would rather fight than quit, prolific Japanese helmer Takashi Miike dishes up “Crows Zero II,” the second installment in the manga-inspired schoolboy-gang-war franchise. Sequel adds some new wrinkles to the two-hour-plus slugfest but essentially sticks to the required formula of yakuza codes being played out in an apocalyptic schoolyard. In April, the pic powered its way to a socko $29 million, outclassing the first by $4 million. Miike’s international cult following will ensure equally robust ancillary.
Yarn starts off six months after the end of the first film. Suzuran Crows gang member Noboru (Shinosuke Abe) is released from a correctional facility after being expelled from high school for knifing a member of rival school gang Hosen. Noboru is ready to rejoin his gang, but the Crows’ status is threatened.
The leader of the Crows pack, Genji (Shun Oguri), is losing status at school due to his inability to defeat towering, red-haired lone wolf Rinda-man (Motoki Fukami). Genji and his loyal inner circle need the support of the student body to protect themselves against the threat of Hosen, which, led by Taiga Narumi (Nobuaki Kaneko), is eager to take revenge on the Crows, particularly the newly released Noboru.
Some spare comic relief and two songs by Genji’s bargirl g.f., Ryuka (J-popster Meisa Kuroki), provide breathers between the action, but the pic is designed for those who like their fight scenes long and scrappy. Mostly unarmed combat, the gang battles range from one-on-one contests to all-out panoramic brawls.
Fight details are sometimes obscured by tight framing and jerky camera movements, but the velocity of the action makes for an exhilarating cinematic dance. When the cartoon violence seems to have reached saturation point, Miike jolts the narrative with unexpected directorial flourishes to give the film its second, third and even fourth winds.
Characterization is minimal but personalities are distinctive enough to prevent confusion. A major shift in emphasis comes with a digression that follows scar-faced Makkie (Tsutomu Takahasi) as he forgoes a fight in order to take a girl on a date. Makkie wants to be a sexual predator, but romance sees him drop his tough-guy facade to reveal a total lamb (and a comical premature ejaculator, to boot). Here and throughout the narrative, Miike suggests macho behavior is mostly a cover for sexual inadequacies.
Nobuyasu Kita’s lensing is variable, and the pic’s digital origins sometimes show. The grungy production design is an artfully composed delight that turns polluted rivers, a graffiti-splattered school complex (with never a teacher to be seen) and a deserted bicycle graveyard into memorable settings. Techno-guitar soundtrack ensures the proceedings are as deafeningly loud as they are visually aggressive.
End titles are punctuated by a joke voiceover declaring that the pic is a work of fiction and that minors should not drink or smoke. For the record, there’s no episode one so far in the series, only “Crows: Episode 0” and “Crows Zero II”