Directing a movie based on a manga isn't something new for Japanese auteur Takashi Miike, who also adapted the ultra-violent Ichi the Killer for the big screen. However, with Crows: Episode 0, gone are the extreme violence, though it still retains some flavour normally found in a typical action flick. Known for movies like Audition and Big Bang Love, Juvenile A, both which were released here, this is probably one of his more accessible films to date, even though it treads on familiar territory with elements of the yakuza.
Crows: Episode 0 is set in an all boys Japanese high school, where instead of having educational classes and courses, what gets put on screen (I haven't read the manga obviously) happens to be an ecosystem of triad society split into different turfs according to grade levels, classes and reputation. Unification of all levels in the school is a challenge, and new boy Genji Takaya (Shun Oguri) throws down the gauntlet on the first day to take down reigning school gangster Tamao Serizawa (Takayuki Yamada), which he finds impossible given that the latter's picked up by the police.
But of course there are unwritten rules to follow in order to engage the top, and he enlists the help of a two-bit average Yakuza hoodlum Ken Katagiri (Kyosuke Yabe) to help plot his path of success. For the most parts, the story is simple to follow, as we shadow Genji in his quest to conquer the high school class by class, through sheer brute force, gaining of respect, or simply just friendship established. As his reputation grows, so does his threat towards Serizawa, which sets up the inevitable climatic showdown where the rival gangs gotta settle who's gonna rule the school. As the saying goes, one mountain cannot hide 2 tigers.
You can't help it but Korea's Volcano High comes to mind for comparison. However, this is without the effects laden stylistic fight sequences where the exponents possess superhuman powers and abilities. Here, it's the good old fisticuffs without a lot of frills, though styled to make the characters seem to have super-strength, no thanks to the sound effects of course. The art direction is beautifully peppered with plenty of grafitti art, and your eyes would just automatically wander off to read just about every word that's spray painted out there. Oozing plenty of testosterone and machismo, there are still enough tender moments to make you cringe, bearing in mind that after all, these are pretty looking boys with mean and tough looking exteriors, but sometimes still softies at heart.
It's fight club in schools where black leather is the new uniform. If you're a fan of no holds barred street fighting with camaraderie elements thrown in, sprinkled with a dash of humour (from sight gags to the toilet variety), then Crows: Episode 0 would be right up your alley.